Tens of thousands of Sudanese demonstrated on Sunday against ruling generals across the country including in the capital Khartoum where police fired tear gas, amid international appeals to avoid further bloody repression.
At the cry of “Civil Power, Civil Power”, the Sudanese took to the streets in several cities to demand a transfer of power to civilians, at the call of the Alliance for Freedom and Change (ALC), the spearhead of the protest movement that hopes for a massive mobilization.
The scale of the demonstrations could be a test to assess the ability of the leaders of the protest to mobilize. But also for the Transitional Military Council, which has held the reins of the country since the dismissal and arrest on 11 April by President Omar al-Bashir’s army.
Before the rallies began, several countries and NGOs called for restraint, almost a month after the brutal dispersal on June 3 of a sit-in of demonstrators outside army headquarters in Khartoum, which had left dozens dead.
In Khartoum and the cities of Omdurman, Port Sudan, Al-obeid, Madani, Kassala and Khasma el-Girbad, the demonstrators chanted revolutionary slogans, according to witnesses.
In areas of Khartoum, where extensive security measures have been put in place, police have fired tear gas at demonstrators, witnesses said. Security forces also fired tear gas at Gadaref (east).
Waving Sudanese flags and waving victory, men and women took to the streets of Khartoum’s al-Sahafa district, according to an AFP journalist on the spot. Many stores have kept their curtains down.
“We are here for the sit-in martyrs. We want a civil status that guarantees our freedom. We want to put an end to the military dictatorship,” said a demonstrator, Zeinab, 23.
“No one has given a mandate to the Military Council, everyone is against the Council”, said a demonstrator who did not want to give his name, before shouting “I am the next martyr”!
In preparation for the rallies, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitaries were deployed to several places in Khartoum in their usual machine gun vans.
For weeks now, the authorities have been blocking access to the Internet, a strategic tool for mobilising demonstrators, since the start of the unprecedented protest movement in Sudan on 19 December 2018.
This movement was initially triggered by the tripling of the price of bread in a poor country with a devastated economy. Demonstrations in Sudanese cities then turned into a protest against the power of General Bashir, who ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly three decades.
The sit-in in front of army headquarters, which began on April 6, was brutally dispersed on June 3. At least 128 people died in the repression that lasted several days, the vast majority in the dispersion of the sit-in, according to doctors close to the protest. The authorities reported 61 deaths.
The RSFs were accused by demonstrators, NGOs and experts of being at the origin of this dispersion.
An investigation committee set up by the Military Council acknowledged that “officers and soldiers” were involved in the dispersal of the sit-in, but the Military Council assured that it had given the order to conduct an anti-drug operation in a nearby area, which overflowed and went wrong.
On Saturday, the generals warned that they would hold LAC “fully responsible” for “human loss” or any “act of vandalism” during the demonstrations.
Recently, the protesters had been satisfied with small gatherings in Khartoum, sometimes dispersed by the security forces.
Despite the arm wrestling, the leaders of the protest and the Military Council say they are open to resuming negotiations, through mediation by Ethiopia and the African Union, to draw the broad outlines of the upcoming transition.
Before Sunday’s demonstrations, the European Union affirmed that it was “the duty of the Military Council to ensure the safety of all and to refrain from any use of violence against demonstrators”.
According to Amnesty International, “the military council must not allow the country to slide towards more repression. The world observes”. – AFP