At least 60 killed in Sudan crackdown, say protest groups

At least 60 killed in Sudan crackdown, say protest groups

Many demonstrators caught up in attack in Khartoum are still unaccounted for. Paramilitaries killed at least 60 people when they attacked pro-democracy protesters in Khartoum, civil society groups in Sudan have said.

Previous estimates put the number of casualties from the attack on a sit-in on Monday at 40. The death toll is expected to rise. The move comes as the US contacted Saudi Arabia – a key backer of Sudan’s military rulers – to emphasise the importance of a transition to a civilian-led government.

Hundreds were injured in the attack on a sit-in in the centre of Khartoum and in clashes afterwards as the feared Rapid Support Forces (RSF) spread through the Sudanese capital to quell sporadic unrest.

The previously reported death toll from the violence on Monday stood at 40, but the Sudan Doctors’ Committee said security forces also shot dead at least 10 people on Wednesday in Khartoum and in its twin city of Omdurman amid scattered protests.

That attack came after another 10 people were killed on Tuesday, including five in the White Nile state, three in Omdurman and two in Khartoum’s Bahri neighbourhood.

The doctors’ committee is the medical arm of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has been leading protests against army rule.

Many protesters caught in the violence are still unaccounted for.

One activist in Khartoum, who did not want to be named, said: “We are still looking for my cousin. He was there … We are just hoping he is being cared for somewhere but can’t contact us.”

Harrowing details of rapes by the paramilitaries are also emerging.

At least one such assault took place when the RSF invaded a hospital close to the site of the sit-in where injured protesters were being treated. Others occurred in the street when paramilitaries chased and caught fleeing civilians, activists said.

Jehanne Henry, the associate Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said the reports of sexual assaults were credible but the extent of such violence was unclear.

After the violence, Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), announced on national television early on Tuesday morning that elections were planned in nine months.

Burhan, who took power in April after the ousting of president Omar al-Bashir, also said all previous agreements with the main opposition coalition had been cancelled.

Leaders of a pro-reform opposition alliance said an open-ended civil disobedience campaign would continue to try to force the council from power.

“What happened [on Monday] – the killing and injuring of protesters, the humiliation – was a systematic and planned attempt to impose repression on the Sudanese people,” said Madani Abbassi Madani, a leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces.

The military’s move against Bashir, whose brutal repressive rule lasted 30 years, followed months of protests that culminated in a massive demonstration outside the defence ministry in Khartoum.

The crackdown has drawn strong criticism from the US, UK and other nations.

However China, backed by Russia, blocked a bid at the UN security council on Tuesday to condemn the killing of civilians in Sudan and issue a pressing call from world powers for an immediate halt to the violence, diplomats said.

Analysts say the countries with the most influence over Sudan’s military leadership are Egypt, its neighbour, and Saudi Arabia. Both have offered significant financial and diplomatic support to the TMC in recent weeks.

Egypt has called for restraint but Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have not made public statements.

Burhan visited Egypt shortly after the breakdown of talks with the opposition at the end of last month. After Cairo, Burhan went to the UAE where the powerful Emirati crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, vowed to help Burhan “preserve Sudan’s security and stability”.

The RSF was organised and armed by Bashir and is largely composed of militia that have been accused of systematic human rights abuses during the war in Darfur. The force is led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, who also serves as deputy head of the TMC.

Dagalo visited Saudi Arabia days before the crackdown to meet senior officials.

The US Department of State said on Tuesday that David Hale, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs, had stressed the importance of a transition to a civilian-led government in Sudan in a phone call with the Saudi deputy defence minister, Khalid bin Salman.

Jason Burke Africa correspondent, and Zeinab Mohammed Salih in Khartoum

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