The death toll in pro-democracy protests across Sudan continues to rise following a military crackdown on protesters.
Rabat – Sudanese military forces shot demonstrators Monday in an attempt to break up a weeks-long sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, the country’s capital.
Monday’s attacks mark a turning point in the standoff between protesters and the military. Until this week’s crackdown, the situation had been tense but remained peaceful. The surge in violence escalates tensions between the two sides.
There have been conflicting reports on the number of casualties- the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) said there have been over 100 killed while a health ministry official said the toll is only 61.
While China and Russia blocked a joint statement from the UN Security Council condemning the violence, individual states – including the US and a group of eight European states – have spoken out against Monday’s attack, as have human rights watchdogs like Amnesty InternationalAmnesty International.
Protesters, who insist they will continue their resistance until a civilian government is in place, labeled the attack “a massacre.”
After Monday’s crackdown, talks between the military council (TMC) and the opposition fell apart. Protest leaders suspended negotiations and the military council responded in kind by canceling any agreements that had come out of previous talks, adding that the military would form a government and hold elections in upcoming months.
Following international criticism of recent violence, the TMC back-peddled and said they were willing to resume talks, but the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) was quick to reject this offer.
“This call is not serious,” SPA spokesman Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa told the Associated Press. “Burhan and those under him have killed the Sudanese and are still doing it. Their vehicles patrol the streets, firing at people. We will continue in our protests, resistance, strike, and total civil disobedience,” he said.
As the SPA pulls away from negotiations, Sadeq al-Mahdi, the head of Sudan’s leading opposition party, urged all factions in the protest movement to come together and set a plan to bring about the transfer of power to civilians.
While protesters and the transitional military council had been negotiating a shift from military to civilian power, the debate over who would head this transitional body – civilian or military – had been a sticking point.
Al-Mahdi told the Associated Press that the military council played a “critical role in the revolution” in overthrowing al-Bashir, but need to take responsibility for recent violence.
The military council’s deputy head, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo – who also leads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that protesters claim led the recent attacks – said that the TMC is conducting an “urgent and fair” independent investigation into the attacks.
A long history of conflicts and coups
Since gaining independence in 1956 Sudan has faced consistent conflict and coups. Recently ousted Omar al-Bashir originally took power in one such coup in 1989.
The nation has had long-standing tension over economic hardship, especially following South Sudan’s 2011 secession, taking with it most of the oil fields that were key to Sudan’s economy. Even after the US lifted its sanctions on Sudan in 2017, the country has struggled to recover.
Last December, Sudanese civilians took to the streets to protest rising costs of bread and fuel, and called for the end of Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule. These economic-turned-political protests spread across the country, manifesting in the country’s capital Khartoum.
The SPA, an umbrella coalition for professional unions, took charge in demonstrations calling for Bashir’s ousting, but were supported by other local organizations and political parties.
Key sections of the military refused to repress protests, eventually forcing al-Bashir to give up power. Al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and war crimes relating to the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region, was replaced by a military council led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
In response to Monday’s attack, the UN is removing its “non-critical” personnel amid the surge in violence and the African Union has revoked Sudan’s membership until a civilian-led transitional authority is in place.