CAIRO – Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Sudan's capital and other cities across the country Sunday for the latest in a months-long string of demonstrations denouncing an October military coup that plunged the country into turmoil. At least one person was killed when security forces violently dispersed protesters, a medical group said.
Protesters, mostly young men and women, marched in the streets of Khartoum and other cities, demanding an end to the military’s takeover. They called for a fully civilian government to lead the country’s now-stalled transition to democracy.
The coup has upended Sudan’s transition to democratic rule after three decades of repression and international isolation under autocratic President Omar al-Bashir. The African nation has been on a fragile path to democracy since a popular uprising forced the military to remove al-Bashir and his Islamist government in April 2019.
The protests are called by the Sudanese Professionals Association and the Resistance Committees, which were the backbone of the uprising against al-Bashir and relentless anti-coup protests in the past three months.
Footage circulated online showed people beating drums and chanting anti-coup slogans in the streets of Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman. Protesters were also seen carrying Sudanese flags and other flags with photos of protesters reportedly slain by security forces printed on them.
They marched towards the presidential palace, an area in the capital that has seen deadly clashes between protesters and security forces in previous rounds of demonstrations.
Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters in at least one location in the capital. At least three people suffered injuries from rubber bullets, said activist Nazim Sirag.
The Sudan Doctors Committee, a medical group tracking casualties among protesters, said a 27-year-old protester died in a Khartoum hospital after he sustained unspecified injuries to his chest during the protests. It did not elaborate.
There were protests elsewhere in the country including the eastern city of Port Sudan, western Darfur region and Madani, the capital city of Jazira province, about 135 kilometers (85 miles) southeast of Khartoum. Madani saw a massive anti-coup protest last week.
Ahead of the protests, authorities stepped up security in Khartoum and Omdurman. They deployed thousands of troops and police and sealed off central Khartoum, urging protesters to assemble only in public squares in the capital’s neighborhoods.
The United Nations mission in Sudan on Saturday warned that such restrictions could increase tensions, urging authorities to let the protests “pass without violence.”
Since the coup, at least 79 people have been killed and hundreds of others wounded in a widely condemned crackdown on protests, the doctors group said.
There were also mass arrests of activists leading the anti-coup protests and allegations of sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, in a Dec. 19 protest in Khartoum, according to the U.N.
The upheaval in Sudan worsened earlier this month following the resignation of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was the civilian face of the transitional government over the past two years.
The prime minister, who was ousted in the October coup only to be reinstated a month later under heavy international pressure, stepped down on Jan. 2 after his efforts to reach a compromise failed.
Sunday’s protests came as the U.N. mission continued its consultations to find a way out of the ongoing crisis.
On Saturday, powerful Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the ruling Sovereign Council, and commander of the feared Rapid Support Forces, said they have accepted the U.N. efforts to resolve the crisis, but that U.N. envoy Volker Perthes “should be a facilitator not a mediator.”
Dagalo did not elaborate but his comments showed the challenges the U.N. mission faces to find a common ground between rival factions in Sudan.
The pro-democracy movement has insisted on the removal of the generals from power and the establishment a fully civilian government to lead the transition.
The generals, however, said they will hand over power only to an elected administration. They say elections will take place in July 2023, as planned in a 2019 constitutional document governing the transitional period.