CAIRO (AP) — Sudanese security forces shot dead two people Saturday during mass protests against the country’s recent military coup, a doctors’ union said. The shootings came despite repeated appeals by the West to Sudan’s new military rulers to show restraint and allow peaceful protests.
Thousands of Sudanese have taken to the streets of the capital and other cities across Sudan, where whistles and drums accompany chants of “revolution, revolution” in protest of Monday’s coup, which threatens to derail the country’s fitful transition to democracy.
Pro-democracy groups had called for protests across the country to demand the re-instating of a deposed transitional government and the release of senior political figures from detention.
The United States and the United Nations had warned Sudan’s strongman, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, that they view the military’s treatment of the protesters as a test, and called for restraint.
Burhan has claimed that the transition to democracy would continue despite the military takeover, saying he would install a new technocrat government soon. But the pro-democracy movement in Sudan fears the military has no intention of easing its grip, and will appoint politicians it can control.
Saturday’s protests were likely to increase pressure on the generals who face condemnations from the U.S. and other Western countries to restore a civilian-led government.
Crowds began to gather Saturday afternoon in the capital of Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman. Marchers chanted “Give it up, Burhan,” and “revolution, revolution.” Some held up banners reading, “Going backward is impossible.”
The demonstrations were called by the Sudanese Professionals’ Association and the so-called Resistance Committees. Both were at the forefront of an uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir and his Islamist government in 2019. They are also calling for the dismantling of paramilitary groups and restructuring of the military, intelligence and security agencies.
One of the protesters killed Saturday in Omdurman was shot in his head, and the other in his stomach, the Sudan Doctors Committee said.
The committee, which is part of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, said security forces had used live ammunition against protesters in Omdurman and nearby. It said it counted more than 110 people wounded on Saturday, some with gunshots, in Khartoum, Omdurman and the eastern province of al-Qadarif.
Sudanese police denied using live ammunition in a statement, saying that a policeman was wounded by gunfire. They said they used tear gas to disperse groups of demonstrators who allegedly attacked their forces and “important positions.” The statement did not elaborate.
Elsewhere, security forces fired tear gas at protesters as they attempted to cross the Manshia Bridge over the Nile River to reach Khartoum’s downtown, said Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the professionals’ association.
“No power-sharing mediation with the military council again,” he said, marching at an area protest.
Earlier on Saturday, security forces blocked major roads and bridges linking Khartoum’s neighborhoods. Security was tight downtown and outside the military’s headquarters, the site of a major sit-in during the 2019 uprising.
Since the military takeover, street protests have been daily. With Saturday’s fatal shooting, the overall number of people killed by security forces since the coup rose to 11, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Committee and activists. More than 280 others were wounded. Troops have fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas at anti-coup demonstrators, and beat protesters with sticks in recent days.
Meanwhile, talks are ongoing to try to mitigate the crisis.
Late Friday, the U.N. special envoy for Sudan, Volker Perthes, met with Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, a coup leader seen as close to Burhan. Dagalo commands the feared Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary unit that controls the streets of Khartoum and played a major role in the coup.
He said the U.N.’s transition mission for Sudan is facilitating dialogue, “which remains the only path toward a peaceful solution to the current crisis,” between the top generals and civilian leaders.
A Sudanese military official said Saturday that a U.N.-supported national committee began separate meetings with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Gen. Burhan to find common ground.
The official said Hamdok demanded the release of all government officials and political figures arrested since the coup. Burhan, the official said, gave an initial approval to release “most” of the detained, but rejected the release of others, including Khalid Omar, Minister of Cabinet Affairs, saying they face accusations of inciting troops to rebellion.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to release the information.
Meanwhile, the U.N. said it is closely monitoring security forces’ response on Saturday.
“They will be held individually accountable for any excessive use of force against protesters,” said Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
Burhan has claimed that the takeover was necessary to prevent a civil war, citing what he said were growing divisions among political groups. However, the takeover came less than a month before he was to have handed power over to a civilian.
Burhan installed himself as head of a military council that he said will rule Sudan until elections in July 2023. Observers say it’s doubtful the military will allow a full transition to civilian rule, if only to block civilian oversight of the military’s large financial holdings.