Sudan pro-democracy activists call for escalation after lethal crackdown

Pro-democracy protesters and Sudan’s military appeared set for a cycle of escalation on both sides after a day in which at least 15 demonstrators were killed by security forces.

Despite a heavy-handed crackdown by the military in the capital, Khartoum, and other cities, activists called on Thursday for an escalation of protests against last month’s military coup, a day after the deadliest security crackdown to date on demonstrators demanding the restoration of a civilian government.

The cycle of demonstrations, and use of lethal force in response, for the present seem to be following a similar pattern to the months of civil unrest that led to the fall of the former dictator Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.

Protests have been continuing since the top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan – Sudan’s de facto leader since the ousting of Bashir – detained the civilian leadership and declared a state of emergency on 25 October.

The move upended Sudan’s fragile transition to full civilian rule, drawing international condemnation and a flurry of punitive measures and aid cuts.

Despite targeting media and activists, and restricting the country’s internet and mobile communications networks, Sudan’s coup leaders have struggled to keep a lid on widespread public opposition to their seizure of power.

On Thursday a group of neighbourhood resistance committees coordinating the protest movement in east Khartoum announced in a statement “open escalation” against the coup until its overthrow.

The resistance committees played a key role in 2019, organising local protests in their sometimes barricaded neighbourhoods and acting as a focus for larger protests.

“Now we are making consultations among the resistance committees about upping the escalation against the coup,” a senior member of the committees in the capital said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Medics aligned with the protest movement said at least 15 people were killed on Wednesday as security forces dispersed protests in Khartoum and other cities with gunfire and teargas.

A number of the fatalities appear to have taken place in Khartoum’s northern Bahri area. Maab Salah, 27, a member of the local resistance committee, said: “Almost every neighbourhood in Bahri today has a funeral. What we saw yesterday was something new.

“Police forces from different units all took part in the repression and killing yesterday. I even saw the traffic police firing on the protesters yesterday.”

Another protester described seeing someone shot down next to her. “His name was Abdul-Karim. I think he was in his 60s. I saw him falling down next to me. We didn’t hear the sound of a bullet but he died immediately, shot in his head,” said the 32-year-old former teacher, who asked not to be named.

Others described how doctors at hospitals in Bahri had been arrested as they tried to treat casualties, prompting doctors to treat those injured in private homes.

Police, however, said they had recorded only one death among protesters in north Khartoum. Another 30 had suffered breathing difficulties from teargas inhalation.

Protesters described the behaviour of police on Wednesday as more aggressive than in the past, the latest sign that the military is looking to entrench its position. The military has said peaceful protests are allowed.

The coup upended a power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilian groups, put in place after Bashir’s overthrow.

Cuts to internet and phone services since the coup have complicated efforts by activists to mobilise. Still, hundreds of thousands took to the streets on two days of mass protests, and thousands attended more scattered protests on Wednesday.

The ambassador of Norway, which together with the US and Britain is in a troika to steer western policy on Sudan, strongly condemned violence against unarmed protesters.

“Hindering access to hospitals and disrupting safety and treatment in hospitals is intolerable and illegal. As is the way all communications have been shut down,” Therese Loken Gheziel said in a statement.

With unrest continuing, police on Thursday fired teargas to disperse dozens of anti-coup protesters who had stayed on the streets of north Khartoum overnight, witnesses said. Security forces also tore down makeshift barricades the protesters had erected the previous day.

“We condemn violence towards peaceful protesters and call for the respect and protection of human rights in Sudan,” the US state department’s Bureau of African Affairs said on Twitter.

Last week, Burhan formed a new Sovereign Council, the highest transitional authority, with himself as chief and military figures and ex-rebel leaders keeping their posts. He replaced members from the Forces for Freedom and Change, Sudan’s main civilian bloc, with little-known figures.

This week, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Molly Phee, met the generals and the ousted civilian government in an attempt to broker a way out of the crisis.

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

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