A man holds a Sudanese national flag before flames at a barricade as people protest against the military takeover in Sudan, in "Street 60" in the east of capital Khartoum on November 13, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Nairobi: Sudanese security forces fired tear gas and live gunfire into crowds of demonstrators on Saturday, killing at least five people and wounding many others, as one of Africa’s largest countries plunged deeper into a crisis set off by a recent military takeover.

Tens of thousands of people massed on the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and several other cities to protest the country’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Abdul Fattah Al Burhan, who has progressively tightened his grip on Sudan since he ousted the civilian prime minister October 25.

The demonstration was the latest in a series of actions, including strikes and civil disobedience, led by angry Sudanese hoping they can force Al Burhan to reverse the coup. Their position is backed by the United States, which has called for the immediate restoration of Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok, and by other Western nations that have suspended aid to the cash-strapped country in an effort to pressure the military.

But Sudan’s generals seem to be going in the opposite direction. On Thursday, Al Burhan appointed himself head of a new ruling body that excluded the civilians he had shared power with since the ouster of the longtime dictator, Omar Al Bashir, in 2019.

On Saturday, the military appeared intent on drawing a line in the streets.

Soldiers closed a major bridge across the Nile linking Khartoum to its twin city, Omdurman, a traditional hotbed of protest. Coils of barbed wire were strewed across major junctions to stop protesters from reaching rallying points near the presidential palace.

Even so, thousands of people spilled out of neighbourhoods in both cities, clashing with riot police officers who fired tear gas at first and then used gunfire.

By evening, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors reported that four people had been killed by gunfire and that a fifth person had died from the effects of tear gas. Many others had been wounded, the doctors committee said, and the chaos in the streets had prevented at least some of them from reaching hospitals.

On Friday, the United States called on the military “to refrain from further unilateral action that will set back Sudan’s hard-won progress to rejoin the international community,” President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Twitter.