The beleaguered Sudanese government today arrested leading doctors and lawyers in an effort to prevent allegedly pro-Soviet professional groups from organizing a nationwide strike calling for the resignation of President Jaafar Nimeri, who is on a state visit to the United States.
The new crackdown came as lawyers joined a strike by doctors that was sparked by three days of antiausterity demonstrations last week blamed by the government on teenaged "vagabonds" and Islamic fundamentalists of the Moslem Brotherhood.
In announcing the arrests of the presidents of the bar association and the Sudanese doctors' union and eight other doctors, the authorities for the first time accused professionals of "Marxist orientation" and said many were educated in Eastern Europe or Moscow and were intent on stirring up trouble.
Mohammed Osman Abu Sag, an official of the country's only legal party, the Sudanese Socialist Union, told reporters that "plans for a demonstration and strike Wednesday by major professional associations constituted a threat to the security and stability of the state." He said that "deep down, this is all connected to a very subtle and complicated strategy by the Soviet Union."
He said engineers also would be arrested, apparently because their association has decided to join the strike Wednesday.
Abu Sag said last night that police had arrested 13 officers and leaders of the Khartoum University student union and four staffers for alleged involvement in a "new plot" concerning outlawed political parties such as the Communists and Baath Arab Socialists.
Speaking on television, he pledged to hunt the outlawed politicians down like rabbits and kill them like scorpions. He also announced a progovernment demonstration for Tuesday in Khartoum.
University sources said that the arrested students were framed and that the "clandestine" mimeograph machines and other equipment the government seized belonged to the student union. Also arrested, according to university sources, were the acting president and secretary of the executive committee of the faculty association.
Meanwhile, doctors at two of the capital's three hospitals reacted to the arrests of their colleagues by refusing to treat even emergency cases, which had been exempted from the previous strike.
The professional associations apparently hope to bring much of Sudanese life to a halt in a rerun of tactics that helped overthrow the military regime of field marshal Ibrahim Abboud in 1964.
Nimeri was expected to fight back. University sources said they were prepared for a "war of attrition" before they succeeded in persuading the Army and police to abandon the president.
"It will be a bloody mess," a professor said, "full of political turmoil, but the longer it lasts the a better chance we have." Reflecting growing popular frustration over recent steep price increases for food and other necessities, he said, "I know Nimeri will probably be replaced by another military man, but anyone would be better -- even Idi Amin" -- the former Ugandan dictator.
Leaflets purportedly published by the police, which knowledgeable Sudanese sources said were authentic, accused Nimeri of a "blatant bribe" in granting policemen and soldiers a long-promised pay increase only after the demonstrations started last week. The leaflets said the police were "not prepared to use force against the population and would disobey orders to do so."