Sudan protests: Thirty dead and more than 100 injured as troops disperse demonstrators
Britain accused Sudan’s military rulers of an "outrageous" attack on the country’s pro-democracy protest movement after security forces opened fire on peaceful protesters in Khartoum.
At least 30 people were killed and 118 wounded when uniformed men using live ammunition, tear gas, and batons attacked and cleared a protest camp in Khartoum early on Monday morning.
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The Sudan Doctors’ Committee, a group aligned with the protest movement, said the toll was likely to climb because some wounded people and medics were stuck in areas occupied by security forces.
"The protesters holding a sit-in in front of the army general command are facing a massacre in a treacherous attempt to disperse the protest," the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has spear-headed the protests, said.
It said it was breaking off all talks with the military council and called for a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience.
The ruling Transitional Military Council council denied clearing the protest and said troops had merely been rooting out trouble makers from a nearby squatting area.
But opposition activists said that was an "astounding lie."
Witnesses described seeing "hundreds" of security forces vehicles massing near the demonstration before attack began just after dawn prayers.
"As I was walking back to the demonstration around five in the morning, I heard explosions of tear gas canisters and the sound of firearms being discharged," said Jalal Hashim, a member of a university professionals association aligned with the protest movement.
"I didn’t know if they were killing people, but while I was approaching the area I came across people coming away. Some of them were holding injured people, others were clearly dead. They were begging passers by to take them to hospital."
"Then we came face to face with men in police uniform. The way they were shooting, they clearly meant to kill. It was not shots in the air," he said.
Soldiers beat passers by with whips and were seen setting fire to protest tents.
By evening the two-square kilometre camp was controlled almost entirely by security forces and there were reports that troops had surrounded hospitals treating wounded survivors and in some cases opened fire in side hospital grounds.
Witnesses said protesters took streets and constructed barricades in other parts of the city and that mobile 3G services had been cut off.
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The violence follows months of deadlocked talks between a pro-democracy revolutionary movement and the Transitional Military Council, a group of generals who seized power after deposing dictator Omar al-Bashir in April.
The protesters, who include a mixture of opposition parties, activist groups, and self-organising young people, are demanding a rapid transition to civilian rule.
The generals have said they in principle agree with that goal, but have insisted on maintaining ultimate control of the provisional government that the sides have agreed will rule the country until fresh elections.
The small tent city outside the ministry of defence in Khartoum was instrumental in bringing down Mr Bashir and was widely seen as the revolutionaries’ main leverage in the negotiations.
The decision to clear it on Monday appeared designed to prevent the movement regaining momentum after the fasting month of Ramadan, which is due to end on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Pro-democracy activists fear crushing the movement would clear the way for the head of the military council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and his deputy, Lt Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as "Hemeti," to establish a new military dictatorship.
Condemn the attack on protestors by Sudanese security forces. This is an outrageous step that will only lead to more polarisation and violence. 1/2
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) June 3, 2019
Lt Gen Dagalo commands the Rapid Support Forces, a militia linked to atrocities in Darfur. Heavily armed RSF troops have maintained a visible presence on the streets of Khartoum since the revolution began.
Some opposition activists have suggested pro-democratic army units might mutiny and take on the RSF over Monday’s attack, citing the intervention by troops to protect demonstrators during the uprising against Bashir two months ago.
However, soldiers inside the military headquarters compound stood by during the attack on the camp on Monday, suggesting measures had been taken by the military council to prevent another intervention.
Western governments condemned the crackdown.
Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, called the attack "outrageous" and said Sudan’s military rulers would be held responsible.
#Sudan 🇸🇩: protesters run for their lives as #RSF militants open fire at thw #Khartoum sit-in this morning.#مجزره_القياده_العامه pic.twitter.com/rHNPys8keS
— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) June 3, 2019
"It will not help Sudan build the future the people are demanding. The Military Council bears full responsibility for this action and the international community will hold it to account," he wrote on Twitter.
The US Embassy in Khartoum also described the attack on the protest camp as "wrong" and said it must stop. "Responsibility falls on the TMC. The TMC cannot responsibly lead the people of Sudan," the embassy said on its Twitter account.
However, Western influence in Sudan is marginal compared to that of regional powers.
Sudan contributes troops to the Saudi-led alliance fighting in Yemen, and Lt Gen Hemedti recently met Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Many opposition activists suspect Riyadh and its allies would prefer to see a strongman dictator in charge rather than a democratic revolution.
Egypt, a powerful neighbour of Sudan, avoided attributing blame for the violence, calling on both sides to show "restraint."
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations human rights chief, called for Sudanese security forces to halt attacks on protesters.
“I utterly deplore the apparent use of excessive force in the protest camps. Reports that live ammunition was used by security forces next to, and even inside, medical facilities are extremely alarming," Ms Bachelet said in a statement.
"I urge the security forces to immediately halt such attacks, and to ensure safe, unimpeded access to medical care for all.”