Sudan: Protesters brave bullets, tear gas to oppose military takeover
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the Sudanese capital Khartoum and other cities on Saturday to protest against a military takeover, despite security forces firing tear gas and bullets to disperse them, witnesses and medics said.
One protester was killed by live fire from security forces in Omdurman, across the Nile from central Khartoum, and many others were wounded, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said.
The demonstrations come two days after military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan announced the formation of a new ruling council that excludes the civilian coalition the military had been sharing power with since 2019.
Sudanese pro-democracy groups condemned the move and vowed to continue their campaign of civil disobedience and protests against the Oct. 25 coup.
Security forces closed bridges on Saturday between central Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Khartoum North to vehicles and pedestrians, laying barbed wire to block access. Roads to strategic sites were also shut.
As protesters began to gather in the early afternoon around the capital, security forces moved quickly to try to disperse them, firing tear gas and chasing demonstrators down side streets to try to prevent them reaching central meeting points, witnesses said.
“People were surprised that they fired the tear gas so early,” said one protester in Omdurman. Protesters “retreated into the neighbourhood and barricaded the streets and now they’re coming back to the main road.”
Witnesses estimated the number of protesters around Khartoum to be in the tens of thousands.
During previous rallies, including on Oct. 30 when hundreds of thousands turned out, security forces had waited until later in the day before trying to disperse protesters.
The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, which is aligned with the protest movement, said demonstrations were “facing excessive repression using all forms of force including live bullets in several areas of the capital Khartoum”.
There was no immediate comment from security forces, but Burhan has previously said peaceful protests are allowed and the military does not kill protesters.
In Wad Madani, south-east of Khartoum, large crowds gathered, chanting slogans including: “Down, down with military rule,” a witness told Reuters. There were also protests in Kassala in eastern Sudan and Atbara to the north, witnesses said, among other cities.
The military takeover upended a transition towards democracy that began after the uprising that toppled autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. Security forces detained senior officials appointed under a power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilian groups and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was placed under house arrest.
On Saturday, protesters carried pictures of Hamdok, now a symbol of resistance to military rule, while chanting against Burhan and his deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
Mobile internet services have remained cut in Sudan since the coup, despite a court order to restore them, and phone coverage has been disrupted, complicating efforts by the protest movement.
However, local resistance committees energised by the nomination of the new ruling council used flyers and organised smaller neighbourhood protests in recent days.
“We reject any mediation or settlement with the coup leaders and will continue our struggle until we bring down the coup and bring the criminals to trial,” they said in a statement.
Volker Perthes, the United Nations envoy to Sudan, called on security forces to show restraint and to respect the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression ahead of Saturday’s rallies.
Despite widespread opposition from political groups in Sudan and pressure from Western powers that backed the transition, Burhan has pushed to consolidate the military’s position. read more Burhan said the army moved to prevent unrest, accusing civilian groups of inciting opposition to the military.
Western states and the World Bank have suspended economic assistance designed to help pull Sudan out of decades of isolation and a deep economic crisis.
The United States and other Western powers expressed grave concern at Burhan’s appointment of the ruling Sovereign Council.
“The U.S. and partners call on Sudan’s military leaders to refrain from further unilateral actions that will set back Sudan’s hard-won progress to rejoin the international community,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Twitter.