Demonstrators protest against prospect of military rule in Khartoum in a file photo. Image Credit: REUTERS

KHARTOUM: Sudanese security forces fired tear gas to disperse crowds in the capital Khartoum on Saturday as protesters gathered for nationwide mass rallies against a military takeover last month, witnesses said.

The demonstrations come two days after military leader Abdul Fattah Al Burhan announced the formation of a new ruling council that excludes the civilian coalition the military had been sharing power with since 2019.

Sudanese pro-democracy groups condemned the move and vowed to continue their campaign of civil disobedience and protests against government dissolution.

Security forces closed bridges on Saturday between central Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Khartoum North to vehicles and pedestrians, laying barbed wire to block access.

Roads to strategic sites including the presidential palace, the cabinet office and the airport were also shut, witnesses told Reuters.

As protesters began to gather in Khartoum, Omdurman and Khartoum North security forces fired tear gas and chased demonstrators down side streets to prevent them from reaching central meeting points, witnesses said.

“People were surprised that they fired the tear gas so early,” said one protester in Omdurman. “They retreated into the neighbourhood and barricaded the streets and now they’re coming back to the main road.” In Wad Madani, south-east of Khartoum, large crowds gathered, chanting slogans including “Down, down with military rule”, a witness told Reuters. There were also protests in Kassala in eastern Sudan, witnesses said.

The military takeover upended a transition towards democracy that began after the uprising that toppled autocrat Omar Al Bashir in April 2019. Security forces detained senior officials appointed under a power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilian groups and Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok was placed under house arrest.

Mobile internet services have remained cut in Sudan since the coup, despite a court order to restore them, and phone coverage has been disrupted, complicating efforts by the protest movement.

However, local resistance committees energised by the nomination of the new ruling council have used flyers and organised smaller neighbourhood protests.