Khartoum: Sudan’s military forcefully broke up a weeks-long sit-in outside Khartoum’s army headquarters on Monday leaving more than 30 dead and hundreds wounded in a crackdown sharply condemned by the US and UN.
Heavily armed members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces were deployed around the capital, guarded entrances to the bridges that cross the Nile and moved in convoys around the city.
The United States called it a “brutal” crackdown on protesters, who want the generals behind the overthrow of veteran president Omar Al Bashir to hand over to civilian rule.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the use of excessive force by the security forces against protesters and called for an independent investigation.
The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, which is close to the protesters, said the “massacre” toll had “risen to more than 30,” with “hundreds of wounded”.
An eight-year-old child was among those killed, it said and called for “urgent support” from humanitarian organisations to help the wounded.
Footage from the Royal Care hospital earlier in the day near the site of the sit-in showed people on the floors of the wards receiving treatment as men in uniforms sitting in pick up trucks gathered outside.
The streets of the capital were largely empty Monday night, with sporadic cars circulating and a few people walking after evening prayers, a time the city is usually busy, an AFP correspondent said.
Many streets remained blocked off by demonstrators who had erected barricades made from stones, tree trunks and burning tyres, although the protesters had departed.
Many shops and businesses were shuttered around the city.
The military council denied its forces violently dispersed the sit-in in front of army headquarters, as demonstrators took to the streets in towns elsewhere in the country.
But protest leaders said the main site in Khartoum had been cleared.
“The Rapid Support Forces and the army and police and militia battalions dispersed the peaceful sit-in,” said the Alliance for Freedom and Change.
Outside the army headquarters “there is no one, but the pure bodies of our martyrs that it has not been possible to evacuate from the site”.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, which spearheaded nationwide protests that started in December, said Monday’s crackdown amounted to a “bloody massacre”.
It called on Sudanese to take part in “total civil disobedience” to topple the military council.
It also asked people to go out on Tuesday to hold Eid prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, “pray for the martyrs” and then “demonstrate peacefully”.
The official date of Eid Al Fitr in Sudan has been fixed for June 5, official news agency SUNA said.
The doctors’ committee said forces had opened fire inside the city’s East Nile Hospital and had chased “peaceful protesters”.
Rallies against Al Bashir’s authoritarian, three-decade rule led to his ouster in April, but protesters had remained outside the army headquarters calling on the generals to cede power to a transitional authority.
Near the demonstration site, a witness living in the Burri neighbourhood said he could “hear the sound of gunfire and I see a plume of smoke rising from the area of the sit-in.”
Britain’s ambassador to Khartoum, Irfan Siddiq, said he had heard “heavy gunfire” from his residence.
The US embassy in Khartoum said “security forces’ attacks against protesters and other civilians is wrong and must stop.”
“Responsibility falls on the TMC. The TMC cannot responsibly lead the people of Sudan,” it added, referring to the transitional military council.
Tibor Nagy, the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa tweeted that it was a “brutal and coordinated attack, led by the Rapid Support Forces militia, that mirrors some of the worst offences of the [Al] Bashir regime”.
Moussa Faki, the head of the African Union Commission, urged “an immediate and transparent investigation in order to hold all those responsible accountable”.
Amnesty International urged the international community to consider “all forms of peaceful pressure, including targeted sanctions on those members of the Sudanese transitional authorities responsible for this morning’s violent attack on sleeping protesters.”
The Alliance for Freedom and Change announced “the end of all political contact and negotiations with the putschist Council” following the deaths, even as the Unites Arab Emirates and Egypt appealed for the two sides to talk.