CAIRO — 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.
During the protests, thousands of Sudanese marched into the streets, chanting “revolution, revolution” to the sound of whistles and drums, to protest against the coup that is threatening to derail the country’s fitful transition to democracy.
Pro-democracy movements had called for demonstrations throughout the country in order to make demands about the re-institution of a discredited transitional government, and for senior political figures being released.
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 claimed the democratic transition would be continued despite military rule. He also stated that he will soon install a technocrat government. Pro-democracy activists in Sudan fear that the military will not relinquish its control and will elect politicians to represent it.
Saturday’s protests were likely to increase pressure on the generals who face mounting 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. These two were the leaders of an uprising in 2019 that overthrew Omar al-Bashir (long-serving autocrat) and his Islamist government.
They are demanding the removal of Burhan and his military council as well as the surrender of government power to civilians. They demand the destruction of paramilitary organizations and the restructuring of the military, intelligence, and security agencies. They demand the removal of all officers who are loyal to al Bashir.
A professional union called the Sudan Doctors Committee said that two Omdurman citizens were shot to death by security forces. According to the report, one of them was killed in the head and another in his stomach.
Elsewhere, security forces fired tear gas at protesters Saturday 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. “They (the generals) have failed the transition and instated a coup.”
Al-Mustafa spoke with The Associated Press over the phone while he took part in the protest in Khartoum’s Manshia neighborhood.
Before the start of the protests, security forces had 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 camp in the 2019 uprising
Every day has seen street protests since the military overthrow. At least nine people have been killed by security forces’ gunfire, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Committee and activists. According to U.N., at least 170 more have been hurt.
Fears were raised that the security forces might resort to violence again to disperse demonstrators. Since Monday’s coup troops have fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas at anti-coup demonstrators. The troops also used whips and sticks to beat the protestors.
The U.N. representatives and the U.S. urged the military not to act out of control.
On Friday night, Volker Perthes (the U.N.’s special envoy to Sudan) met Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo. Dagalo is a leader in a coup that was seen as being close to Burhan. Dagalo heads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces that control the streets in Khartoum, and is a leading figure in the coup. Perthes said in a message posted on Twitter that he “stressed the need for calm, allowing peaceful protest and avoiding any confrontation” in his talks with Dagalo.
Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, also urged security forces to avoid violence against protesters. “They will be held individually accountable for any excessive use of force against protesters. We are monitoring,” he warned.
Burhan claims that the takeover was required to avoid a civil conflict. This is despite growing political divisions. But the takeover took place less than a month prior to Burhan’s plan to give the Sovereign Council leadership, which is the largest decision-making authority in Sudan to civilians. Such a step would have lessened the military’s grip on the country. This council included both military and civilian members.
Burhan also dismissed both the Transitional Government, headed by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and responsible for day-to-day operations. Burhan also declared a national emergency and ordered the military to cut off access to internet and mobile phones. According to NetBlocks, internet access was still largely blocked on Saturday.
Burhan was elected head of the military council which will govern Sudan through elections scheduled for July 2023. In an interview with Russia’s state-owned Sputnik news agency published Friday, Burhan said he would soon name a new premier who will form a Cabinet that is to share leadership of the country with the armed forces.
“We have a patriotic duty to lead the people and help them in the transition period until elections are held,” Burhan said in the interview. He said that as long as expected protests are peaceful, “security forces will not intervene.”
However, observers said 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.