‘Bloody massacre’: Sudan military try to disperse Khartoum sit-in

Five people reported dead amid gunfire as security forces attempt to break up protest site outside defense ministry

Sudanese security forces entered the site of a sit-in in central Khartoum early on Monday amid gunfire, witnesses and Arab television stations said, in what activists described as an attempt to disperse protesters demanding civilian rule.

A medical association affiliated to protesters said at least five people were killed and dozens injured in the raid, which was still in progress.

“Now an attempt is taking place to disperse the sit-in at the headquarters of the people’s armed forces by force by the military council,” said the Sudanese Professionals Association, the group which spearheaded nationwide protests that started in December.

The SPA said it amounted to a “bloody massacre”, and called on Sudanese to take part in “total civil disobedience” to topple the military council and for people for take to the streets to protest.

Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC), which assumed power when the military ousted President Omar al-Bashir in April after three decades in office, said on Monday that criminal elements near the protest site were targeted in a raid by security forces, denying that authorities were trying to clear the camp.

Lieutenant General Shams El Din Kabbashi also told the Reuters news agency that the TMC remained committed to talks with the protesters and was ready to hold a meeting soon.

Kabbashi earlier told Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia talks on a civilian transition were expected to resume “today or tomorrow”.

The TMC has repeatedly said it would not use force to disperse the protesters, often comprising thousands of young men and women who take turns camping outside the Defense Ministry.

A leader of Sudan’s protest movement called the storming of the protest camp a “coup” against the uprising that led to the ousting of Bashir.

“We will confront it by escalating protests, marches and full civil disobedience,” said Khalid Omar Yousef, a leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces.

The British Ambassador in Khartoum said in a message on his Twitter account he was “extremely concerned by the heavy gunfire I’ve been hearing over the last hour from my Residence and reports that Sudanese security forces are attacking the protest sit-in site resulting in casualties”.

“No excuse for any such attack. This. Must. Stop. Now,” he wrote.

Talks deadlocked

The violence comes amid a persistent deadlock in talks between protesters and Sudan’s military rulers over demands to hand over power to civilians.

The TMC has offered to let protesters form a government to run the country but insists on maintaining overall authority during an interim period.

Demonstrators want civilians to run the transitional period and lead the North African country of 40 million to democracy.

“Sudanese security forces’ attacks against protesters and other civilians is wrong and must stop,” the US embassy in Khartoum wrote on Twitter on Monday.

“Responsibility falls on the TMC. The TMC cannot responsibly lead the people of Sudan.”

Chaotic scenes

Live footage broadcast by Arab television stations showed chaotic scenes, with protesters running away as black smoke rose from tents apparently torched by the raiding force.

Demonstrators, some waving Sudanese flags, hurled stones at security forces, who charged amid sounds of intense gunfire.

A video posted on social media showed one protester collapse to the ground, crying in pain after being hit by what appears as live fire.

A Reuters witness saw troops wielding batons, including riot police and members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, deploy in central Khartoum and close roads, apparently to try to block people from reaching the protest site.

Nile bridges that connect various parts of the Sudanese capital have also been blocked.

A witness living in the Burri neighbourhood in east Khartoum said he could “hear the sound of gunfire and I see a plume of smoke rising from the area of the sit-in”. 

Another resident of the area, which is near the sit-in, said he had seen forces in “police uniform” trying to expel the demonstrators, the AFP news agency reported.

In Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, across the Nile, thousands of people took to the streets, blocking roads with stones and burning tyres, a Reuters witness said.

There were no signs of any security forces in the area.

Stability in Sudan is crucial for a region grappling with violence that stretches from the Horn of Africa to Libya.

The sit-in had become the focal point of protests that started in December, sparked by a severe financial crisis that caused cash shortages and bread price hikes.