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Sudanese Security Forces Open Fire On Protesters In Capital

A protester flashes the victory sign in front of burning tires and debris near Sudan's military headquarters. For months demonstrators have been demanding a a transition to civilian rule.
A protester flashes the victory sign in front of burning tires and debris near Sudan's military headquarters. For months demonstrators have been demanding a a transition to civilian rule.

The leaders of the long-running protest movement in Sudan say they're halting all contact with the military and calling for a campaign of civil disobedience and a general strike after Sudanese security forces opened fire on protesters in the capital, Khartoum, on Monday.

Soldiers shot pro-democracy demonstrators outside the country's military headquarters, killing several people, according to local media reports and witness testimony, before dispersing throughout the city.

A spokesperson for a doctor's association, the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, which has been helping coordinate the protests, told NPR, "The Transitional Military Council forces are firing live ammunition inside East Nile Hospital and chasing peaceful protestors inside the hospital's campus. Royal Care Hospital in Buri area is under siege by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) forces at the moment. TMC's forces are preventing volunteers from reaching the hospital. "

The association said security forces' fire killed a total of 27 protestors, including an eight-year-old child. It also says more than 116 injuries across Khartoum's hospitals have been confirmed, and that it is receiving reports of more deaths and injuries which are "under confirmation."

Videos posted to social media show protesters being whipped and beaten by men in uniform. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports that demonstrators say the crackdown began early when heavily armed troops in pick-up trucks, mounted with machine guns, were deployed across Khartoum.

The BBC spoke with a civilian named Fardia. "They're killing people. They want to get rid of them. So, when they kill, means they want to stop the revolution. In order to do so, they have to use their weapons and kill people and shoot them down," Fardia said.

A burgeoning pro-democracy movement, which began months before the April ouster of long-time former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir has been demanding a transition to civilian rule. But talks recently collapsed between protesters and the ruling Transitional Military Council which replaced Bashir.

Demonstrators insist on an immediate transition to civilian government with elections to be held in about three years. Sudan's military leaders have said they should remain in charge during the transition period before elections are held, but agreed to greater civilian participation in the government.

Pro-democracy demonstrations have continued in Sudan since December, and in recent months protesters have gathered at a long-running sit-in at the gates of military headquarters for speeches, concerts and art performances. Security forces have attempted to disperse the crowd before, but on Monday used greater force.

Residents said the capital sounded like a war zone.

Sreya Ram, an analyst for The Economist Intelligence Unit, a research group, told NPR that Monday's violence has "ensured that the pro-democracy movement will continue with even greater vigor."

"Despite today's violence, the public have continued to protest against the military rule," Ram said.

According to Ram, the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces, which represents the protesters in negotiations, has called for nationwide disobedience. "We expect the call to be widely heeded and also include white collar workers putting further pressure on the military," Ram said.

The soldiers' shooting of protesters drew widespread condemnation. The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum said the security forces' "attacks against protesters and other civilians is wrong and must stop."

Britain's ambassador to Sudan, Irfan Siddiq, also called for an end to the violence. "No excuse for any such attack. This. Must. Stop. Now," Siddiq wrote on Twitter.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, "The protestors in Sudan have over the past few months been an inspiration, peacefully demonstrating and working to engage with the Transitional Military Council."

"I utterly deplore the apparent use of excessive force in the protest camps. Reports that live ammunition was used by security forces next to, and even inside, medical facilities are extremely alarming. I urge the security forces to immediately halt such attacks, and to ensure safe, unimpeded access to medical care for all," Bachelet continued.

Bashir, a former general, ruled Sudan for 30 years before his ouster last spring. He is wanted by international prosecutors for war crimes in Darfur.

NPR's Ofeibea reports, "Protesters accuse Sudan's notorious (former) Janjaweed militiamen of using similar tactics on determined demonstrators in Khartoum as they've used in a brutal crackdown on civilians in Darfur in western Sudan."

Demonstrators say the head of the erstwhile Darfur "Janjaweed" paramilitary force allegedly behind today's shootings is Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti. He's commander of a unit that New York-based Human Rights Watch calls"the abusive Rapid Support Forces."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.