KHARTOUM, SUDAN (AFP) – Seven people were killed Sunday as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand civilian rule in the first mass rally since a bloody crackdown on demonstrators — a show of street power despite heavy troop deployments by the ruling generals.
The “million-man” march had been seen as a test for protest organisers after their push for civilian rule was hit by the June 3 raid on a Khartoum protest camp and a subsequent internet blackout that curbed their ability to mobilise support.
Dozens of demonstrators were killed and hundreds wounded when armed men in military fatigues stormed the sit-in on June 3 outside army headquarters, shooting and beating protesters who had camped there since April 6.
On Sunday, police fired tear gas on protesters approaching the presidential palace after organisers called for a march on the building that houses offices of the ruling transitional military council, an AFP correspondent reported.
“We call on our revolutionary people in the capital to go to the republican palace… to seek justice for the martyrs and for an unconditional transfer of power to civilians,” the Sudanese Professionals Association that first launched protests against now ousted ruler Omar al-Bashir said on Twitter.
Police also fired tear gas at protesters in the northern Khartoum district of Bahri and in Mamura and Arkweit, in the capital’s east, as thousands of protesters chanted “Civilian rule! Civilian rule!”, witnesses said.
“We’re fed up with the military. For decades this country has been ruled by the military. It didn’t work and it will not work,” said protester Nada Adel, 28.
“Despite what they did at the sit-in, despite the people they killed… the revolution will not die in the hearts of the youth.”
‘I’m the next martyr’
Elsewhere, security forces used tear gas to disperse protests in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman and the eastern town of Gadaref.
Late on Sunday the official SUNA news agency quoting a health ministry official said “seven were killed” in the protests, without elaborating how they died or who they were.
It said that another 181 people were wounded, including 27 with bullets.
Separately 10 members of regular forces were also wounded, including three from the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces shot by “live ammunition,” it said.
Earlier a doctors’ committee linked to the protest movement said that five protesters had been killed during the day, including four in Omdurman.
It also said that several more were seriously wounded by gunshots fired by “the military council militias”.
The deputy chief of the ruling military council said that unknown snipers had shot at least three members of RSF and five or six civilians in Omdurman.
“There are infiltrators, people who want to jeopardise progress,” General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who also commands the RSF said at a rally.
Men and women flashing victory signs and carrying Sudanese flags flooded the streets of Al-Sahafa neighbourhood of Khartoum.
“No one gave a mandate to the military council, all the people are against the council,” said a protester who shouted out “I’m the next martyr.”
Marchers also passed by the homes of those killed on June 3 as onlookers cheered and motorists honked horns.
Thousands also protested in the cities of Port Sudan, Al-Obeid, Madani and Khasma el-Girba, witnesses said.
The SPA described the protest as “monumental and unique”.
“Not only because of the unprecedented huge crowds, but because the masses have committed themselves to peace and chosen the path of nonviolence to achieve their revolutionary goals.”
The RSF was deployed in pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns in several Khartoum squares.
Prior to Sunday’s deaths, at least 128 people were killed since the June 3 crackdown, the majority of them on that day, according to doctors close to the protest movement.
The health ministry says 61 people died nationwide on June 3.
The military council insists it did not order the dispersal of the sit-in, but acknowledged “excesses” after orders were given to purge a nearby area allegedly notorious for drug peddling.
The council has warned it would hold the protest movement “entirely responsible if any soul is lost” in Sunday’s protests.
The June 3 raid came after talks collapsed over who should lead a new governing body — a civilian or soldier.
Ethiopia and the AU, who are mediating between the generals and protest leaders, have proposed a blueprint for a civilian-majority body, which the generals say could be a basis for resuming talks.
Protesters had initially gathered at the military headquarters in April to seek the army’s support in ousting Bashir.
They kept up their sit-in to demand civilian rule after the generals deposed the president on April 11, until it was violently dispersed.