Sudan‘s opposition has rejected a plan by the country’s military to hold elections within nine months, a day after more than 35 people were reportedly killed when security forces attacked a protest camp in the capital, Khartoum.
Madani Abbas Madani, a leader of the opposition Freedom and Change alliance, said on Tuesday that an open-ended civil disobedience campaign would continue to try to force the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) to hand over power to a civilian-led interim government.
“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,” Madani told the Reuters news agency.
The TMC removed veteran President Omar al-Bashir in April after months of protests against his authoritarian rule. But the security forces’ bloody dispersal of a weeks-long sit-in outside the army headquarters in Khartoum poses a new challenge to Sudan’s protest movement.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded the protests against al-Bashir, called for an international committee to investigate the deaths in what it branded a “massacre”.
The mood in Khartoum was very tense on Tuesday, with many roads barricaded by protesters, many shops shut and streets mostly empty.
Security forces in the city centre barred access to the former site of the sit-in outside the military’s headquarters, the scene of Monday’s violence. An Al Jazeera witness reported gunfire by Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the capital.
RSF vehicles were also patrolling the streets in Omdurman, on the other side of the River Nile from Khartoum, and firing into the air, according to the AFP.
Eid prayers for ‘martyrs’
Despite the security presence and internet outages, residents of some areas of the capital still came out to mark the Eid al-Fitr festival a day early and to protest.
The military announced the festival would begin on Wednesday. But the SPA said astronomers at Khartoum University had determined that Tuesday was the first day of the holiday, and urged people to hold Eid prayers to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan to “pray for the martyrs” and then “demonstrate peacefully”.
Thousands of activists responded to the SPA’s call, gathering outside mosques in several neighbourhoods around Khartoum and Omdurman.
After prostrating in prayer, some worshippers chanted, “Freedom, peace, justice and civilian government are the people’s choice,” according to videos posted online.
For weeks, the military and protest leaders were negotiating over the make-up of a transitional council meant to run the country for three years before elections.
But after Monday’s violence, the TMC’s head, General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, announced it would unilaterally form an interim government and stage elections sooner, within nine months, and under international supervision.
He said any agreements reached in the negotiations were cancelled.
“Gaining legitimacy and a mandate does not come but through the ballot box,” al-Burhan said, adding that military leaders would investigate Monday’s violence.
Protesters rejected the election plan because it would put the military in charge of running the poll and reiterated their call for three years of civilian-led authority.
“We have no choice but to continue our protests and civil disobedience until the fall of the military council,” said Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the SPA.
He called for the international community and the United Nations Security Council not to recognise al-Burhan or the military authorities and put pressure on the generals to hand over power to a civilian-led authority.
The Security Council is set to discuss the crackdown in Sudan on Tuesday afternoon in a closed-door session requested by the United Kingdom and Germany.
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for “an impartial, independent” UN inquiry into the deadly crackdown. “Key international actors should impose targeted punitive sanctions against those responsible,” said Jehanne Henry, the group’s associate Africa director.
The Democratic Alliance of Lawyers, part of the SPA, on Tuesday urged “some Arab countries” not to interfere in Sudanese affairs and to drop their support for the TMC.
The alliance’s comments appeared to be aimed at Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, which analysts say are trying to consolidate their influence in Sudan following al-Bashir’s overthrow.
Ahead of the crackdown as talks faltered, al-Burhan had visited Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The Soufan Group, a security and intelligence think-tank, said the violence could swiftly escalate.
“There are clear parallels to some of the Arab Spring protests that eventually progressed to full-blown insurgencies, including Syria, where indiscriminate shelling of civilians by the military initially galvanized protest movements that helped launch a broader uprising,” it said in an analysis.
“There is a real risk that the situation could spiral into full-blown civil war, which would significantly affect the region, with spillover violence impacting the ongoing conflict in Libya.”