Five protesters were killed on Saturday and scores injured when security forces fired live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas at tens of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets of the Sudanese capital to denounce last month's military takeover, an independent union of doctors said.
Witnesses said protesters fought pitched but brief street battles with the security forces in several locations of the city before they were dispersed and, in some cases, chased down side streets.
Activists said some of the shooting by security forces came from snipers perched on rooftops.
Protesters said the use of tear gas was particularly heavy and swift, dispersing them within minutes of assembling, with scores passing out from inhaling the fumes. One of the five who died on Saturday suffocated from the tear gas, according to the union of doctors.
"We went out to express our right to peaceful demonstrations but were surprised by the merciless use of tear gas," said Amir Ahmed, one of the protesters in Umm Dorman.
The use of tear gas and live rounds, however, did little to dent the resolve of protesters who called for another day of anti-coup rallies on November 17.
"We will confront the decisions of the military every day until our dream of civilian and democratic rule is realised," said protester Walid Fadl, 40.
Sudanese police said that Saturday’s demonstrations started peacefully but “quickly got off track,” according to state TV. They said that many police stations were attacked by protesters but denied using firearms against demonstrators.
The bloodshed came despite calls from UN Envoy to Sudan Volker Perthes who called on authorities to "exercise the utmost restraint and respect the right to peaceful assembly."
Saturday's protests were met by a large-scale deployment of soldiers, police and members of a powerful paramilitary force across the capital. Soldiers closed bridges over the Nile in the city, in a bid to prevent any large gathering that could overwhelm security forces.
The bridges were blocked by coils of barbed wire, according to witnesses, forcing many protesters to walk for hours to cross bridges in outlying districts of the city to reach central Khartoum.
Soldiers also blocked roads leading to the military's headquarters near the centre of the city, the aiprort, the presidential palace and the Cabinet offices.
The US Embassy in Sudan expressed "deep" regret over the deaths and injuries.
The area outside the Army headquarters was the site of a sit-in by tens of thousands of people in the days leading to the removal by the military of dictator Omar Al Bashir in April 2019 after four months of street protests.
On Saturday, protesters used some of the chants they shouted when they rallied against Al Bashir in 2018 and 2019. "Just go!" they screamed, alluding to army chief and coup leader Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan. "No, and a thousand no to the coup!"
The protesters waved Sudan's red, black, green and white flags. They hoisted portraits of Abdalla Hamdok, the civilian prime minister toppled by the military. They also beat drums, while women ululated. There were similar protests on Saturday in the cities of Kassala, eastern Sudan, Wad Madani, north of Khartoum and Atbara, north of the capital, according to activists.
Saturday’s rallies came two days after Gen Al Burhan appointed himself the leader of a ruling military-civilian council.
The new council excludes representatives of the main pro-democracy alliance that had served as the power base of the civilian-led government, which was dismissed on October 25.
The appointment of the 14-member council has consolidated the military’s grip on power and dashed hopes that mediation bids to resolve Sudan’s political crisis could succeed.
The takeover has drawn international condemnation and led to the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars from donors. It has also sparked near-daily street rallies by protesters demanding a return to the democratic transition that followed Al Bashir’s removal.
About 20 protesters have been killed and 300 wounded since the takeover, according to an opposition-linked association of doctors.
The latest protests were called by the powerful Sudanese Professionals’ Association, a driving force of the anti-Al Bashir protests in 2018 and 2019, and the neighbourhood resistance committees, another key player in that uprising and now the leading force behind protests.
Sudan internet blackout
The mobilisation of protesters has been particularly difficult due to an internet outage and intermittent telephone services, measures taken by the military to stymie protests.
A Khartoum court has ruled that the internet must be restored but authorities have appealed the verdict.
Neighbourhood resistance committees bypassed the internet outage by using text messages, word of mouth, graffiti and flyers to mobilise support.
Saturday’s rallies were being held under the slogan, “No negotiations! No bargaining! No partnership!”. The slogan mirrors the SPA’s resolution to see the military excluded from any future government and for Gen Al Burhan and his associates to be put on trial.
In addition to derailing Sudan’s democratic transition, Gen Al Burhan has also declared an indefinite state of emergency and detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, along with several Cabinet members.
In the nearly three weeks since the takeover, Gen Al Burhan has ordered the arrest of scores of critics, including activists, journalists, union leaders and prominent members of neighbourhood resistance committees.
He insists the military takeover is a “correction” of the transitional government's track.
Gen Al Burhan has also said the takeover was in response to public insults against the armed forces by civilian politicians and activists, incitement of sedition and the poor handling of the economy by Mr Hamdok’s government.