Security forces armed with assault rifles have launched a deadly attack on pro-democracy protesters in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, targeting supporters of a protest site that has remained outside Sudan’s military headquarters for the past two months.
At least 35 people have been killed so far in the assault that began at dawn on Monday, according to reports from Khartoum. It was the worst violence since Sudan’s military seized power in a coup in April.
Leaders of the pro-democracy movement vowed that the protests will continue. They said their supporters were shutting down Khartoum’s airport as part of a widening strike action to put pressure on the military council that now controls the country.
Video clips, posted on social media, showed hundreds of protesters fleeing in terror as sustained bursts of gunfire erupted. In one video, an unarmed protester was shot and injured, falling to the ground after he confronted the attackers.
Hospitals in Khartoum were filled with the dead and injured. Photos showed dead bodies on hospital floors, covered in shrouds. In some cases, security forces burst into hospital compounds to pursue the protesters, reports said.
There was immediate criticism from Western leaders, who had been urging the military regime to refrain from violence.
“Condemn the attack on protesters by Sudanese security forces,” said British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a tweet on Monday.
“This is an outrageous step that will only lead to more polarization and violence,” he said. “The military council bears full responsibility for this action, and the international community will hold it to account.”
The U.S. embassy in Khartoum, in a tweet, said the military council bears responsibility for the attacks. It said the assault on protesters and other civilians “is wrong and must stop.”
The military council took control of Sudan in April after ousting the long-ruling president, Omar al-Bashir, in a coup. Military leaders have held weeks of negotiations with pro-democracy leaders on how to move toward civilian rule, but the talks collapsed when the military council insisted on retaining a large amount of control in the planned new government.
The street protests began last December, triggered at first by the rising price of bread and fuel in a country gripped by soaring inflation and high unemployment. The protests spread across the country, and by April they were focused on a round-the-clock sit-in outside the military headquarters. The military and police have repeatedly tried and failed to clear away barricades around the site.
The attacks on Monday were reportedly led by soldiers, police and a notorious paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, formerly known as the “Janjaweed” when it committed massacres and other atrocities against rebels in the Darfur region of Sudan.
The RSF commander, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, is deputy leader of the military council. He is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Last month, on his first international visit since the coup, he travelled to Saudi Arabia and pledged to continue Sudan’s military support for the Saudi Arabian military campaign in Yemen. Pro-democracy protesters fear he has gained Saudi Arabia’s support for a plan to crush the street demonstrations.
In Khartoum, as the violent crackdown against protesters continued on Monday afternoon, Sudanese authorities reportedly ordered cellphone companies to halt their mobile internet services, making it more difficult for protesters to communicate. Some services were later restored.
A spokesman for the military council denied that the security forces were clearing away the protest camp, saying that the forces were merely trying to disperse “unruly” elements near the sit-in camp area.
The military council said early Tuesday it had cancelled all previous agreements with the main opposition coalition and called for snap elections. Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said in an address that elections would be held within nine months.
With files from Reuters.