Security forces on Thursday shot dead four anti-coup protesters in the Khartoum district of Umm Dorman and fired tear gas on crowds trying to march to the Nile-side presidential palace at the heart of the Sudanese capital, witnesses and a medical group linked to the country's pro-democracy movement said.
The four fatalities were reported by the Central Doctors Committee, whose meticulous tallying and verifying of victims of political violence since 2018 has earned it widely-acknowledged credibility.
It said all four were killed by live rounds causing wounds to the head and chest. At least 29 other protesters sustained gunshot wounds, also from live rounds.
In the capital's district of Bahri, tear gas was also fired at protesters approaching a Nile bridge blocked by security forces, according to the witnesses. They were chanting: “As much as we sacrifice and die, we won’t be ruled by the boot [military]."
Thursday was the 11th day of major demonstrations since a military coup on October 25 led by army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan upended Sudan's democratic transition nearly three years after the toppling of dictator Omar Al Bashir's 29-year regime. Tens of thousands were out on the streets, chanting slogans against military rule and Gen Al Burhan, according to the witnesses.
They said the use of force was more excessive than in previous, post-coup rallies, with heavy use of tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. Live rounds appeared to have been used only in Umm Dorman. The witnesses said television news crews were beaten by members of the security forces and in some cases had their equipment confiscated.
Thursday's deaths and the use of excessive force by the security forces were likely to further fuel the protests and deepen the country's political crisis.
At least 52 protesters, including Thursday's four, have been killed and hundreds injured in the past two months.
Most bridges to Khartoum were closed on Thursday, many of them blocked with shipping containers and barbed wire, according to the witnesses.
Roads leading to the army headquarters and the Republican Palace, both in central Khartoum, were also closed off to traffic with concrete barriers and barbed wire as thousands of security forces were stationed throughout the city, they said.
Authorities also cut off internet and telephone services in an apparent attempt to prevent protesters from co-ordinating their action or persuading more people to take to the streets.
A powerful pro-democracy group in Sudan said on Thursday that eight of its senior members had been arrested by the security forces hours before the start of the street rallies it called for to protest against the military takeover.
The group, the Resistance Committees, said the arrests over the past two days were made by plainclothes security men who arrived at the members’ homes in vans without licence plates.
Gen Al Burhan’s coup triggered a series of mass street rallies across Sudan calling on the military to step aside and allow a civilian government to take the reins of power. It also drew strong international condemnation and the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of aid by western donors and international agencies.
News of the arrests came a day after a spokesman for Gen Al Burhan confirmed to Suna, the official Sudan news agency, that security agencies had been authorised to search private homes, make arrests and carry out surveillance operations under the state of emergency declared the day of the coup.
These powers had been taken away from the security agencies and police after Al Bashir’s removal in April 2019 following a popular uprising. Until their restoration last week, police could not make arrests without a judicial warrant and security agencies were authorised only to gather intelligence.
“These powers don’t threaten freedoms or the right to protest, but rather to cut off the sabotaging hands that don’t want to see a stable transition or a genuine shift to democracy,” Brig Gen Al Taher Abu Haga told Suna.
“It is not logical for the state to stand idly by while facilities are damaged, streets ruined and people’s business is disrupted.”
Police last week said they had arrested more than 50 people during protest rallies on December 25.
The Umma Party, one of Sudan’s largest, said this week it had proposed a political road map to end Sudan’s political crisis. Leaders of the party met Gen Al Burhan on Wednesday to discuss the proposals, but there was no word on whether the discussions made any progress.
The proposals, published by the Umma Party, included the swift creation of an assembly to function as a transitional parliament and a resumption of the partnership between the military and pro-democracy groups during the remainder of the transitional period.
It also suggested that the power-sharing document signed by the two sides in 2019 be amended to ensure that the military-led Sovereignty Council, which in theory operates as a collective presidency, does not encroach on the powers and authority of the civilian-led government.
The proposals also stipulate that Al Bashir be handed over to the International Criminal Court to be tried for genocide and war crimes in the Darfur region during the 2000s and that the question of normalising relations with Israel be decided after the transitional period.
The proposals include the naming of a new committee to investigate the killing of at least 100 protesters by security forces when they moved to break up a sit-in protest in June 2019. Activists and relatives of the victims believe the military’s top brass have stymied the committee because the findings were likely to incriminate them.
They made no mention of Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister of the civilian-led government Gen Al Burhan dismissed when he seized power. He reinstated Mr Hamdok on November 21 and mandated him to form a new government of independent technocrats. Five weeks later, that government has yet to be formed amid intensifying speculation that the prime minister intends to resign.
Mr Hamdok, once firmly backed by the pro-democracy movement, is now labelled by some activists as a traitor or a fig leaf for direct military rule. Of the 52 protesters killed since October 25, 10 were killed after his deal with the military.
Gen Al Burhan has promised an investigation into the killing of protesters since his October coup but has not said who will conduct the investigation or when the findings will be published. He has denied the army’s involvement in the killings, but the police insist they do not use live rounds.
A meeting last week by the Al Burhan-led Sovereignty Council said allegations that at least eight women were raped during protests on December 19 would be investigated by the relevant bodies. Again, no details were given.