Opponents of the coup in Sudan have vowed to step up their protests after 15 civilians were killed during demonstrations against the military takeover.
More than three weeks since General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan derailed Sudan’s already fragile transition towards civilian rule, pro-democracy activists are facing an increasingly dangerous struggle in the streets.
At least 15 people were killed during anti-coup demonstrations on Wednesday, according to the Sudan Doctors Committee, an independent group of medics.
The deaths occurred mostly in the Sudanese capital Khartoum’s twin cities of Bahri and Omdurman, the committee said, bringing the death toll since the October 25 coup to at least 39. Hundreds have also been wounded during the crackdown, the committee said.
The anti-coup protests resumed on Thursday in Khartoum, with police firing tear gas to disperse dozens of people who had stayed on the streets overnight.
Police tore down makeshift barricades but dozens of protesters returned later to rebuild them and police again fired tear gas to disperse them, witnesses said. Confrontations continued as well in Bahri.
A witness in Omdurman, across the Nile, told the Reuters news agency that security forces were removing barricades, using tear gas and arresting protesters.
A group of neighbourhood resistance committees coordinating the protest movement in east Khartoum announced an “open escalation” against the coup.
“Now we are making consultations among the resistance committees about upping the escalation against the coup,” a senior member of the committees said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Sudanese Professional Association, which spearheaded a popular uprising that led in 2019 to the removal of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir, had called for civilian disobedience on Thursday.
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said that it was not clear if that call had been taken up by Sudanese.
“We have seen traffic movement on the roads and in residential neighbourhoods, so it’s not clear how much of a response that call for civilian disobedience for people to stay away from work was met and how many people prefer to go on about their daily lives.”
Later on Thursday, the official news agency SUNA said internet and telephone services were “gradually returning through all telecommunication companies,” following weeks of a near-total shutdown.
Police deny using live bullets
Accounts of what took place during Wednesday’s bloody crackdown differed widely, with Sudan’s police chief defending his security forces and saying they use only legal means to contain anti-coup protests.
At a news conference on Thursday, Chief of Police Lieutenant General Khalid Mahdi Ibrahim insisted that police are protecting civilians and primarily use tear gas to contain violence at the protests.
The police have also accused demonstrators of having attacked police personnel in clashes that led to the killing of one officer and at least 80 wounded. They said that they recorded one civilian death.
But protesters have given a different account, saying that they have documented both the police and the military firing live bullets at protesters since the coup. Protest leaders in Sudan have repeatedly called on demonstrators to abide by nonviolent tactics in their attempt to halt the coup.
The violent crackdown on Wednesday drew international condemnation, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet describing the use of live ammunition as “utterly shameful”.
“Shooting into large crowds of unarmed demonstrators, leaving dozens dead and many more injured, is deplorable, clearly aimed at stifling the expression of public dissent, and amounts to gross violations of international human rights law,” she said.
The European Union also condemned the crackdown, saying the “perpetrators of these violations will be held accountable” and that the telecommunications blackout must “not prevent the world from being informed about these human rights violations”.
Western states have suspended economic assistance since the coup with the US suspending $700m in aid.
Despite the economic pressure, efforts to mediate a way out of the crisis have stalled. But in a briefing to reporters on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken struck an optimistic note.
“Everybody, it seems to me, wants to find a way back, which is not the feeling I think you would get from the outside,” he said.
Al-Burhan last week appointed a new ruling council, a move Western powers said complicated efforts to restore the transition towards democracy.
But al-Burhan has yet to name a new cabinet, leaving at least some possibility for a compromise over a new administration, though analysts say it underlines difficulties the general has faced securing civilian backing for a new government.