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Sudan Security Forces Open Fire at Protest Site

Gunfire erupted in the streets of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, early Monday as security forces opened fire on pro-democracy protesters outside the country’s military headquarters and killed several people, according to a doctors’ association and local media reports.

Soldiers fanned out across the city in the most concerted drive yet to disperse the protesters, who are demanding a transition to civilian rule after the ouster of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in April.

The removal of Mr. al-Bashir raised hopes among the protesters after decades of autocratic rule, but weeks of talks between protest leaders and the Transitional Military Council, which has ruled Sudan since April, collapsed this week.

Videos posted to social media showed bleeding protesters lying on the ground, and uniformed men opening fire in the streets and thrashing civilians with sticks.

Plumes of smoke rose over the city as demonstrators blocked streets near the protest site, burning tires at barricades. A camera over the empty protest site recorded long bursts of gunfire.

The United States Embassy in Khartoum blamed the country’s military leaders for the violence and called for an immediate halt. “Sudanese security forces’ attacks against protesters and other civilians is wrong and must stop,” the embassy wrote on Twitter.

Britain’s ambassador to Sudan, Irfan Siddiq, said gunfire started to erupt near his residence in central Khartoum in the early morning and joined the American call for a cessation. “No excuse for any such attack. This. Must. Stop. Now,” Mr. Siddiq wrote on Twitter.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, which led the protests that toppled Mr. al-Bashir in April, said that the security forces were firing live ammunition outside a hospital in Khartoum and that they were pursuing protesters inside the medical building.

The United States Embassy attributed the violence to the Transitional Military Council led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. “Responsibility falls on the TMC. The TMC cannot responsibly lead the people of Sudan,” the embassy added in its post on Twitter.

Shams al-Deen al-Kabashi, a spokesman for the military council, said in televised remarks that the military was confining its operations to a specific area near the sit-in that he nicknamed “Colombia.” The military was moving to open blocked roads across the capital, he added.

But a Western diplomat in Khartoum, speaking by phone, said the military appeared to have been deployed widely across the city. It was unclear which branch of Sudan’s fractious security forces was leading the effort. On social media, several protesters pointed to members of the Rapid Support Forces, a powerful paramilitary group led by the deputy military leader Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, widely known as Hemeti.

The military action to disperse the pro-democracy demonstrators was the moment that the protesters have been fearing for weeks.

Mr. al-Bashir’s ouster in April, after four months of street protests, brought tens of thousands of young Sudanese to the gates of the military headquarters in joyous scenes that celebrated the demise of a hated dictator and, they hoped, heralded a return to full civilian rule.

In the weeks since, the protest site has become a focus of the burgeoning pro-democracy movement. Thousands of people gathered nightly for concerts, to hear speeches or just to mingle freely, savoring new social freedoms that were impossible under Mr. al-Bashir.

Despite punishing summer temperatures, the sit-in continued into the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which ends this week.

The protesters are demanding an immediate transition to full civilian rule during a transitional period leading to elections in about three years. General al-Burhan and the military have agreed to strong civilian participation in a transitional government but insist that they should remain in charge.

The military is backed by powerful regional actors, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, whose leaders were discomfited by the popular protests in Sudan.

For weeks, Sudanese protesters have warned that the military might try to forcibly disperse them, much as Egypt’s military did in 2013 when it killed over 800 people in Cairo to end street protests led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Monday’s dispersal started after a night of heavy rains in Khartoum, which meant the number of protesters camped outside the military headquarters was relatively low.

Speaking by phone from Khartoum, a doctor at the Royal Care hospital, where many of the wounded were taken, said soldiers positioned outside were stopping medical staff from entering the hospital.

One video clip circulating on social media, taken at another hospital in the city, showed a bloodied Sudanese flag draped over the body of a young man.

News credit : Nytimes