Sudanese security forces have used tear gas, rubber bullets and sound bombs on Tuesday to disperse tens of thousands of protesters who marched across the country to mark the first anniversary of a military coup and demand full civilian rule.
According to the Sudanese Doctor’s Committee, security forces killed at least one person by running him over with a large truck. More than 100 people have been killed in regular anti-coup protests since the October 2021 coup.
“Our goal today is to bring about a civilian democratic government. We want a civilian government that will help the Sudanese people. It is the power of the street … that is going to establish the power of the people,” said Yassin al-Khalifa, a 33-year-old man wearing a yellow cape and driving a motorcycle.
The coup authorities cut off internet access hours before the march commenced, but that did not dissuade people from taking to the streets. Protesters waved Sudanese flags as well as pictures of young people who were killed by the security forces.
Outside the capital Khartoum, protests also took place in other states, including Port Sudan and South Kordofan.
The mass protests also signalled a popular rejection of ongoing US-led talks that aim to broker a new civilian-military partnership between a loose coalition of political parties known as the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the military coup leaders.
During Tuesday’s demonstrations, many people were chanting: “No negotiations, no dialogue, no partnership,” referring to popular demands for a fully civilian government in power without involvement from the military or armed groups.
The night before the protests, the Friends of Sudan – a coalition of countries that includes the European Union (EU), the UK and the US – released a statement that reaffirmed their support for a civilian-led government, which they said was needed to stop the country’s economic decline and worsening humanitarian crisis.
However, the country’s pro-democracy movement is wary of the phrase “civilian-led”, seeing it as a euphemism for a reformed partnership with military figures since that was the same language used to describe the civilian-military government before it was toppled last year.
“We don’t want any negotiations with the military. We want the army to go back to the barracks and we want all armed groups subsumed into the military so that we have a single army,” said Shahinaz Osman, a 40-year-old mother of five.
Other protesters also voiced their anger at reports that an amnesty for coup leaders Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo – better known as Hemeti – was on the table.
The former is the commander of the Sudanese armed forces, while the latter is the head of a powerful paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
At least 120 protesters were killed when security forces, including the RSF, stormed a sit-in in Khartoum on June 3, 2019, in the worst violence since President Omar al-Bashir was toppled from power in April the same year.
“The people in the streets want accountability. Burhan and Hemeti killed so many people and not just since October 25 but since the dispersal of the sit-in [on June 3, 2019],” said Shahinaz Gamal, a member of one of the resistance committees, the neighbourhood groups spearheading the pro-democracy movement.
Rights groups have also stressed the need for accountability in order to end impunity for the coup authorities.
“Over the last year, Sudan’s military leaders have faced no consequences for their repression of the protest movement,“ said Mohamad Osman, Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“The world should stand behind [protesters’] demands for a rights-respecting future and make clear that impunity for the ongoing serious crimes, including at the highest level, will not be accepted.”
Security forces have continued to repress peaceful demonstrators as they have not been held accountable for past abuses. Witnesses said on Tuesday that they noticed an increase in people carrying light arms who were chasing protesters and trying to drive them into smaller side streets.
Many protesters suspect that there are plain-clothed security officers mingling with the crowds of protesters.
“In the past, these plainclothed officers would usually just monitor neighbourhoods but they wouldn’t participate in the violence. Today was different,” Dania Atabani, a 22-year-old protester, told Al Jazeera.
Many protesters are bracing for more violence after the police released a statement claiming some people in today’s march posed a threat to security officers.
The statement called for the Ministry of Justice to bestow police with exceptional powers in order to confront “organised rebel groups” and “sleeper cells” among the protests and refer them to courts for summary trials.
Since the coup, various branches of the security forces have made similar claims that some people among the protesters are violent.
Rights groups and protesters say the messaging provides a pretext for security forces to commit human rights abuses with impunity.
“They always come up with the same excuse,” said Atabani. “[The police statement is why] I expect the coming demonstrations to be much more violent.”