Sudanese security forces have shot four people dead during nationwide protests, a doctors’ group said, as tens of thousands of people marched against military rule.
Soldiers on Thursday fired tear gas and stun grenades as protesters marched through Khartoum and the neighbouring cities of Omdurman and Bahri towards the presidential palace in the capital.
The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) said four protesters were shot dead by security forces, three of them in Omdurman.
In a statement on Friday, police authorities confirmed the death toll and said 297 protesters and 49 police officers had been injured. At least 52 people have been killed by security forces since pro-democracy activists launched a campaign of street demonstrations against an October 25 coup, according to doctors.
Thursday’s protests were the 11th day of major demonstrations since the military’s power grab, which saw Abdallah Hamdok removed and then reinstated as civilian prime minister. The demonstrators have been demanding that the military play no role in government during a transition to free elections.
Reporting from Khartoum, Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall said the situation in Omdurman had developed into a serious confrontation between the security forces and anti-coup protesters despite earlier indications that the protest would be less violent than previous ones.
“But as the day progressed, it became clear that, because the security forces prevented the protesters in Omdurman from crossing the bridges and reaching central Khartoum, the main confrontations took place there,” said Vall.
Earlier on Thursday, security forces confronted protesters about 2km (1.2 miles) from the palace in the centre of the capital, reports said.Amid a communications blackout, most bridges to Khartoum were closed, with at least two blocked by shipping containers. An army checkpoint with an armoured vehicle was seen at one of the bridges that remained open.
Protesters heading towards the blocked bridge connecting the city of Bahri to the capital chanted: “As much as we sacrifice and die, we won’t be ruled by the boot.”
Protesters continued facing tear gas in Bahri past sundown near the blocked bridge, a witness told Reuters news agency.
Bridges had also been blocked off during the last protests on December 25, when tens of thousands took to the streets.
Protesters opposed to military rule reached near the presidential palace that day, despite the extensive use of tear gas and a communications blackout. CCSD said more than 200 people were injured during that protest, with six caused by live bullets.
Cameron Hudson, a non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, said since the coup, there have been “repeated miscalculations by the military both in terms of the power and perseverance of the protest movement”.
“There have been more and more draconian efforts [by the military], essentially undermining whatever is left of the [political] transition at every stage,” he added.
US appeal for calm
Before Thursday’s protests, the US embassy appealed for restraint from the government led by military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, which had been counting on a controversial November partnership deal with Hamdok to calm public anger.
“The US embassy reiterates its support for peaceful expression of democratic aspiration, and the need to respect and protect individuals exercising free speech,” a statement said.
“We call for extreme discretion in use of force and urge authorities to refrain from employing arbitrary detention.”
Activists have condemned the sexual attacks during the December 19 protests, in which the United Nations said at least 13 women and girls were raped or gang-raped.
Hamdok had been held under effective house arrest for weeks before returning to the prime ministerial post under the November deal, which promised elections in July 2023.
But the agreement was widely criticised as a gift to the military that gave a cloak of legitimacy to its coup, with pro-democracy protesters accusing Hamdok of “betrayal”.
Sudan’s sovereign council this week reinstated powers of arrests, detentions and seizures to the country’s intelligence service.