KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) – The death toll in Sudan amid a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and the dispersal of their peaceful sit-in earlier this week in the capital, Khartoum, reached 60 on Wednesday, protest organizers said.
The mounting casualties are the latest challenge to the protest movement, which now aims to show it can keep up pressure in the streets after its central rallying point – the weeks-long sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum – was wiped out on Monday.
In April, the movement succeeded in forcing the military to remove Sudan’s longtime strongman, Omar al-Bashir. It then kept its sit-in going, demanding that the generals who took power hand over authority to civilians.
The last previously reported death toll stood at 40 but the Sudan Doctors Committee said security forces killed at least 10 people on Wednesday in Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman. That came after another 10 people were killed on Tuesday, including five in the White Nile state, three in Omdurman and two in Khartoum’s Bahri neighborhood.
The doctors’ committee is the medical arm of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has been spearheading protests against army rule. The medical group also said hundreds were wounded in clashes in the past two days.
Activists Mohammed Najib and Hashim al-Sudani said there were street battles late Tuesday and early Wednesday in Khartoum’s Bahri and Buri districts between protesters and security forces mainly from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, or RSF.
“In Buri, there were lots of shootings and tear gas,” al-Sudani said. “They tried to force people into narrow streets” to beat them.
On Monday, members of the RSF, which human rights groups say carried out rapes, torture and killings of civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region, and other troops waded into the protest camp outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum, opening fire and burning down tents. Other troops crushed two smaller sit-ins organized by the protesters elsewhere.
The crackdown put an end to the relative peace that surrounded the talks and signaled the military had lost patience with activists’ demands. The result puts the two sides on the path of a potentially longer confrontation with increasing violence.
In a televised speech early Tuesday, the military council’s head, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, blamed protest leaders for the volatile situation, accusing them of drawing out negotiations and trying to exclude some “political and security forces” from taking part in any transitional government.
He announced the military would unilaterally form an interim government and hold elections sooner, within seven to nine months, under international supervision. He said any agreements reached earlier in the negotiations with the demonstrators were canceled.
Protesters rejected the move because it would put the military in charge of running the election.
Since Monday, tensions remain high in Khartoum and elsewhere as demonstrators stage scattered rallies and block main roads with barricades. Security forces have been seen in online videos, patrolling Khartoum districts.
Madani Abbas Madani, a leading activist, said the protesters would continue an open-ended civil disobedience campaign until the overthrow of the ruling military council.
“What happened on Monday was a systematic and planned attempt to impose repression on the Sudanese people,” he said in televised comments late Tuesday.
Magdy reported from Cairo.