Anti-coup protesters in Sudan insist on return to civilian rule

NAIROBI, Kenya – Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of several towns in Sudan on Saturday, activists and pro-democracy groups said, denouncing the October military coup that threatened the country’s fragile progress towards stability and its attempt at democratic transition after decades of reigning war.

Saturday’s protests were the 10th major protests in the past two months, as coup opponents remained rebellious despite continued crackdown by security forces, repeatedly flocking to the streets week after week to demand a return to civilian rule.

Anticipating Saturday’s protests, the the authorities cut off the mobile internet starting at 6 a.m. local time, according to Internet watch organization NetBlocks. They also blocked the main roads in the capital, Khartoum, and closed the bridges connecting it to the nearby town of Omdurman across the Nile.

As the protests began, television stations broadcast footage of security forces firing tear gas bursts at protesters trying to march towards the presidential palace.

No deaths were reported on Saturday evening, but the pro-democracy Sudanese Doctors’ Central Committee said authorities were blocking ambulances and medical personnel from helping protesters.

But at least 48 people have been killed since the coup began, the medical group said, and hundreds of people in towns and villages across the country have been injured.

“All these measures confirm the intentions of the coup plotters to confront the processions with more violence and brutality and so that the violations are not documented,” the group said in a statement posted on Facebook on Saturday.

The group of doctors also accused police to go to a hospital in the eastern city of Port Sudan and arrest an injured protester and a number of medics trying to arrest them.

On Saturday evening, the Sudanese Professionals Association, a coalition of pro-democracy unions, accused the security forces of using “excessive force and reckless violence” and of detaining civilians indiscriminately. In a statement posted on Facebook, she called on lawyers to visit detention centers and police stations to help release those detained.

Since the coup, Sudan has been plagued by widespread and almost continuous protests denouncing the October 25 military coup as well as the November 21 agreement with the military that reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in power.

Mr Hamdok returned to the prime minister’s office at the end of November after four weeks of house arrest, but only after signing a new power-sharing agreement with the military leaders who had dismissed him.

“We must put an end to the bloodshed,” Hamdok said at the time.

But if the country’s military, led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, believed that simply bringing back Mr. Hamdok would quell dissent, they seem to have miscalculated. The prime minister has been criticized by protesters and civilian members of his former cabinet for signing the deal, and has been accused of covering up the continuation of military rule.

Many remained enraged by the deaths of demonstrators who defied the regime after the coup.

After the December 19 anti-coup protests, the United Nations human rights office called for an independent investigation into “disturbing” reports that 13 women and girls were victims of rape and gang rape . Protesters gathered that day to also mark the third anniversary of the protests that led to the overthrow of the country’s longtime dictator, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, in April 2019.

“It is crucial that the security forces guarantee and protect the right to peaceful assembly and act in full compliance with international laws and standards governing the use of force,” the human rights office said. UN in a press release.

Saturday’s protests came just days after Mr Hamdok signaled to politicians that he intended to step down from his post, according to an official in his office.

Mr. Hamdok expressed his frustration that many political parties and the general public continue to reject the agreement he signed with the military. But he faces local and international pressure to stay.

“He is under so much pressure to make things work,” said the official, who has not been authorized to discuss the matter publicly and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity. “But anything could happen then.”

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