KHARTOUM – Sudanese security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas on Saturday to disperse protesters denouncing the military’s tightening grip on the country, killing at least five and wounding several, activists said.
The violence came as thousands of pro-democracy protesters yet again took to the streets across Sudan to rally against the military’s takeover last month. The coup has drawn international criticism and massive protests in the streets of the capital of Khartoum and elsewhere in the country.
The killings on Saturday took place in Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman, and the dead included four killed by gunshots and one who died from a tear gas canister, according to the Sudan Doctors Committee. Several other protesters were wounded, including from gunshots, it said.
The rallies, called by the pro-democracy movement, came two days after coup leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan reappointed himself head of the Sovereign Council, Sudan's interim governing body. Thursday’s move angered the pro-democracy alliance and frustrated the United States and other countries that have urged the generals to reverse their coup.
“For me, this is an illegitimate council and this was a unilateral decision that was taken by Burhan alone," said protester Wigdan Abbas, a 45-year-old healthcare worker. “It was a decision by one person ... without consulting the coalition for freedom and change."
The Sudanese military seized power Oct. 25, dissolving the transitional government and arresting dozens of officials and politicians. The takeover upended a fragile planned transition to democratic rule, more than two years after a popular uprising forced the removal of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir and his Islamist government.
Saturday’s protests were called by the Sudanese Professionals Association and the so-called Resistance Committees. Both groups were primary forces behind the uprising against al-Bashir in April 2019. Other political parties and movements joined the call. The Sudan Doctors Committee is also part of the pro-democracy movement.
They movement has opposed the return to the power-sharing deal that established the deposed transitional government late in 2019 and demand a full handover to civilians to lead the transition to democracy.
Earlier Saturday, protesters gathered in Khartoum neighborhoods waved Sudanese flags and posters of deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who has been under house arrest since the coup. They also chanted “civilian, civilian," a reference to their main demand that the generals hand over power to civilians.
Later, the demonstrators regrouped in Khartoum and barricaded at least one major street with stones and burning tires. There were also protests in other Sudanese cities and towns.
"The youth ... will not give up and will not stop this revolution until we achieve the goals of the revolution,” said Mohammed Ahmed, a 28-year-old university student.
Hamza Baloul, the information minister in the deposed government, took part in Saturday’s rallies following his release from detention earlier this month.
There should be “no negotiations with the coup leaders,” he told the protesters in Khartoum. “The Sudanese people insist on a civilian government ... the civilian state (government) is our option and we will fight for it."
Later Saturday, security forces stormed the Arbaeen Hospital in Omdurman, pushing and beating up doctors, as well as injured protesters who were there for medical help and their families, the Sudan Doctors Committee said.
Pascal Cuttat, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Khartoum, condemned the violence at the hospital. “The work of medical professionals must be facilitated and the injured must have access to the care they need,” he tweeted.
The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum also condemned “the excessive use of force” against protesters who took to the streets “for freedom and and democracy.”
Sudanese police, however, denied using live ammunition against the protesters and said that the demonstrators attacked several police stations and vehicles in Khartoum, leaving some 39 policemen with serious injuries.
The demonstrations took place amid tight security. Authorities had closed off bridges over the Nile River linking Khartoum's neighborhoods. Troops and paramilitary forces also sealed off the area around the military headquarters, where thousands of protesters set up camp in April 2019, forcing the military to remove al-Bashir.
Saturday's deaths have brought the tally to at least 19 protesters killed due to excessive force used by the country’s security forces since the Oct. 25 coup, according to Sudanese doctors and the United Nations.
Ongoing mediation efforts have sought a way out of the crisis in Sudan.
The U.N. envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes, said he held “good discussions” Friday with representatives of the protest movement in Khartoum, civil society activists and Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, a civilian member of the council dissolved in the coup. Nasredeen Abdulbari, justice minister of the deposed government, also took part.
Magdy reported from Cairo.