KHARTOUM/NEW YORK: At least six people were killed in Sudan on Sunday in a violent crackdown on protesters demonstrating against military rule.
In central Khartoum, security forces fired tear gas and used water cannon as they tried to prevent the swelling crowds from marching toward the presidential palace, witnesses said.
They estimated the crowds in Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Bahri to be at least in the tens of thousands, and to be the largest this year. In Omdurman, witnesses reported gunfire and the use of tear gas as security forces prevented protesters from crossing into Khartoum.
The UN denounced the violent response by the authorities to the protests.
“We’ve said this before and we’ll continue to say that we’re very, very much gravely concerned by the continued use of excessive force by the government security forces in Sudan as they respond to protests, and especially what we’ve seen today,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Arab News.
“It is imperative that people be allowed to express themselves freely and peacefully, and security forces in any country should be there to protect people’s right to do that, not to hinder it.”
The way forward, he added, “is for all the parties to reach an inclusive political solution as soon as possible, leading to a return to constitutional order and democratic transitions.”
The latest protests mark the third anniversary of the massive demonstrations during the uprising that overthrew long-time autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir and led to a power-sharing arrangement between civilian groups and the military.
In October last year, the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, toppled the transitional government, triggering protests amid demands that the army stays out of politics.
June 30 also marks the day Al-Bashir seized power in a coup in 1989.
Some of the protesters on Thursday carried banners demanding justice for those killed during previous demonstrations. Others chanted: “Burhan, Burhan, back to the barracks and hand over your companies,” a reference to the Sudanese military’s economic holdings.
Earlier, protesters blocked some of the capital’s main thoroughfares with barricades made from stones and burning tires.
“Either we get to the presidential palace and remove Al-Burhan or we won’t return home,” said a 21-year-old female student protesting in Bahri.
For the first time in months of protests against October’s coup, internet and phone services were cut. After the military takeover, extended internet blackouts were imposed in an apparent effort to hamper the protest movement. Staff at Sudan’s two private-sector telecoms companies, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that authorities ordered them on Thursday to once again shut down internet connections.
Phone calls within Sudan were also blocked and security forces closed bridges over the Nile linking Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri — another step typically taken in response to big protests to limit the movement of marchers.
In recent days there have been daily protests in many neighborhoods. On Wednesday, medics aligned with the protest movement said security forces shot dead a child during demonstrations in Bahri. The four deaths on Thursday, all in Omdurman, brought to 107 the total number of protesters killed since the coup.
There were also large numbers of injuries and attempts by security forces to storm hospitals in the capital where the wounded were being treated, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said. There was no immediate comment from Sudanese authorities.
The UN envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes, this week called on authorities to abide by a pledge to protect the right of peaceful assembly. “Violence against protesters will not be tolerated,” he said.
Military leaders said they dissolved the government in October because of political paralysis. As a result, however, international financial support that had been agreed with the transitional government was frozen and an economic crisis has escalated.
Al-Burhan said on Wednesday that the armed forces look forward to the day when an elected government can take over but added that this can only be achieved through consensus or elections, not protests.
Mediation efforts led by the UN and the African Union have so far yielded little progress.