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15 shot dead as thousands join anti-coup protests in Sudan

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A protester waves a flag during what the information ministry calls a military coup in Khartoum, Sudan

At least 15 Sudanese protesters were shot dead and dozens more wounded, medics said, when thousands rallied Wednesday against last month’s coup, chanting “no to military power” amid clouds of tear gas.

The fatalities – all in Khartoum, especially its northern districts – raised to 39 the death toll from unrest since the military seized power, a pro-democracy doctors’ union said. Hundreds more have been wounded.

Several rallies broke out across the capital, even though telephone lines were cut and internet services have been disrupted since the power grab, AFP journalists reported.

Security forces fired tear gas, injuring several more protesters, witnesses said. The medics union also reported “dozens of bullet wounds”, while security forces deny firing live rounds.

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“The people choose civilian rule,” demonstrators chanted, also shouting slogans against Sudan’s ruler, top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Demonstrations also erupted in Port Sudan, an AFP journalist said, against the coup which halted a democratic transition that followed the 2019 toppling of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Efforts to stem the protests have seen hundreds arrested, including activists, passers-by and journalists. Qatari network Al Jazeera’s bureau chief was arrested Sunday and released Tuesday.

The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors has said security forces have also arrested injured people inside Khartoum hospitals.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella of unions instrumental in the 2019 protests, denounced “immense crimes against humanity” and accused the security forces of “homicide”.

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One protester in Khartoum said the “repression has been fierce”.

“There has been a lot of violence, continuous tear gas and sound grenades,” 42-year-old Soha told AFP, adding that she saw one person with gunshot wounds and that there were many arrests.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a visit to Kenya on Wednesday urged Africans to watch out for rising threats to democracy.

He told Sudan’s military the country stood to regain badly-needed international aid if it restores the “legitimacy” of civilian government.

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Washington has suspended some $700 million in assistance to Sudan since the coup.

“If the military puts this train back on its tracks and does what’s necessary, I think the support that has been very strong from the international community can resume,” said Blinken.

Prior to 2019, Sudan had been under some form of military dictatorship for much of its modern history.

Burhan has declared a state of emergency, ousted the government and detained the civilian leadership, derailing a transition to full civilian rule and drawing international condemnation.

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Burhan insists the military’s move “was not a coup” but rather a push to “rectify the course of the transition”.

US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee has been shuttling between the generals and the ousted civilian government in a bid to broker a way out of the crisis.

Phee has called for the reinstatement of ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who is effectively under house arrest.

The few remaining free members of his cabinet continue to describe themselves as the “legitimate” government and refuse to negotiate with the military leaders.

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While some of the civilian leaders have been freed since the power grab, new ones have been arrested.

Burhan last week announced a new Sovereign Council, the highest transitional authority, with himself as chief and all nine military members keeping their posts.

Its four civilian members were replaced.

Burhan has also removed a clause in the transitional constitutional declaration that mentions the Forces for Freedom and Change, the key group behind the protests that toppled Bashir.

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He has continued to promise elections will go ahead as planned in 2023, reiterating to Phee on Tuesday that his actions aimed to “correct the trajectory of the revolution”.

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