A Killing by Sudanese Security Forces Stokes the Anger of a Protest Movement

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KHARTOUM, Sudan -- The killing of a young pharmacist by Sudanese security forces during an antigovernment demonstration here has become a rallying cry for the protest movement that has rocked Sudan for the last two weeks, threatening the government's grip on power.

Since the pharmacist, Salah Sanhouri, 28, was shot in the back and killed last month, crowds have gathered daily outside his house.

"Oh, Khartoum, revolt, revolt against those who killed Salah Sanhouri," they chanted on a recent evening. A short documentary about his life and death titled "Stairway to Heaven" has drawn nearly 9,000 views in three days on YouTube. A Facebook page called "We are all Salah Sanhouri" received 44,000 likes in a single week.

The title of the Facebook page recalled another one dedicated to Khaled Said, an Egyptian businessman whose fatal beating by police officers helped start the Egyptian uprising in 2011. Others here have compared Mr. Sanhouri to Mohamed Bouazizi, the food vendor whose self-immolation was the catalyst for the protest movement in Tunisia.

The demonstrations here in the Sudanese capital began after the government lifted subsidies on gasoline, nearly doubling the price of fuel overnight and heralding an inevitable increase in the price of other goods. The energy crisis compounded an existing economic crisis, with inflation nearing 40 percent and the value of the Sudanese pound plummeting.

The government has responded, the authorities said, with "an iron fist" to curtail "destructive actions." Sudan's police forces say 700 people have been arrested and 33 people have died in the violence, blaming "trained elements" and "vandals."

But a report by Amnesty International on Wednesday said that 210 were believed to have been killed in Khartoum, mostly "due to gunshot wounds to the chest and head," and that at least 800 had been arrested. Security and police forces have used live ammunition as well as tear gas and batons to break up the protests.

Sudan's interior minister, Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid, said in a statement on Thursday night that "armed groups and individuals" were responsible for the killing of protesters, according to the Sudanese News Agency. The government has not claimed responsibility for any of the deaths.

Among the protesters was Mr. Sanhouri. Born and raised in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, he belonged to a prominent business family in Sudan. He studied pharmacology in Pakistan and could have worked for more money in Abu Dhabi, relatives said, but he chose to return to his ancestral homeland instead.

"He insisted on working in Sudan after graduation," said Mohammed Ghazi el-Bereir, 27, Mr. Sanhouri's cousin. "He loved his country."

When heavy rains and flash floods hit Sudan last August, Mr. Sanhouri worked with the medical teams that volunteered with Nafeer, a youth-led aid group.

"He used to provide medical support for Nafeer," said Ghazi al-Rayeh, a coordinator with the group. "He brought equipment like stethoscopes and medical solutions."

The economy of Sudan, a strife-torn country with an authoritarian government, began to unravel after South Sudan split off as a separate country two years ago, taking nearly 75 percent of the oil revenue the two countries had shared. The government responded by lifting subsidies on gasoline and some foods, which concerned Mr. Sanhouri.

"He felt that poor people would not be able to take it," Mr. Bereir said.

The night before Mr. Sanhouri's death, he and Mr. Bereir were organizing young people in their upscale Burri neighborhood. They spent the evening preparing paper banners. "Peaceful" is what Mr. Sanhouri wrote on one banner, Mr. Bereir said.

After Friday Prayer on Sept. 27, thousands gathered in Burri and a march began. "We met up with another demonstration, and it became huge," Mr. Bereir recalled. "I couldn't see the end of the demonstration."

The protesters chanted, "The people want to bring down the regime," a popular chant during the Egyptian uprising, and "Freedom, peace and justice, revolution is the path of the people."

Some of the protests earlier in the week had led to the destruction of public property. The government said that 40 gas stations and scores of buses had been burned.

Mr. Sanhouri, however, opposed violence and destruction, Mr. Bereir said. "He used to tell everyone at the protest not to throw rocks or burn anything or use foul language," he said.

As the group marched, they were met by police officers in riot gear firing tear gas. Mr. Sanhouri and Mr. Bereir were separated. "The last thing he told me was take photos, let the world know what's happening," Mr. Bereir said. "I didn't know these would be the last words I'd hear from him."

Witnesses said that security forces fired live ammunition into the air. The protesters ran into alleys and houses, covering the back of their heads with their hands.

Mr. Sanhouri tried to run into a house, but as he put his first foot inside he collapsed to the ground.

"He was shot," said Abdelrahman Ismail, 24, who had run into the same house. "The bullet penetrated his back into his heart and went out from his chest." A woman in the house screamed as she saw Mr. Sanhouri's white shirt turn crimson. Mr. Ismail said he tore Mr. Sanhouri's shirt and placed his hands on his heart, trying in vain to stop the bleeding.

He said he and others ran with Mr. Sanhouri's body to the street. A driver stopped and took them to the hospital.

When he found out that his cousin had been shot, Mr. Bereir rushed to the Police Hospital, where Mr. Sanhouri had been taken. As is the practice at many underfinanced public hospitals in Sudan, nurses asked Mr. Bereir to go and purchase gauze and other material from a nearby pharmacy for Mr. Sanhouri's surgery. "I ran like a madman," Mr. Bereir said. "I was losing my mind."

He ran to a nearby pharmacy, but it was closed. He ran to another, bought the supplies and rushed back to the operating room. He begged the nurse to transfer Mr. Sanhouri to the private Royal Care Hospital, owned by his own family and considered Khartoum's best, but the nurse said it was too late.

Scores of people were waiting in the hospital's lobby, waiting to hear from Mr. Sanhouri's surgeon. At 6 p.m., the doctor announced that he was dead.

At his funeral procession the next morning, thousands marched, and some began to chant, "Martyr, martyr!" -- the first signs that in death a modest pharmacist could become a national icon.

"He is a symbol of a man full of patriotism who could have just enjoyed life but wanted to help his country," Mr. Ismail said.

It does not hurt that he was thought handsome and polite. Some admirers have latched on to his prominent family and medical background to compare him to the Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara.

"His story resembles Che's," said Hisham Ahmed, 29, one of the makers of the YouTube video. "He was full of humanity. He came from a prominent family, could have lived an easy life, but chose to help the people."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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