KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Pro-democracy protesters defied Sudan’s military rulers Tuesday, carrying out scattered demonstrations around the capital of Khartoum as security forces — including one of the most feared military units — fanned out in large numbers and clashed with opponents in the streets.
The protest movement aimed to show it can keep up the pressure in its confrontation with the generals, one day after security forces cleared the demonstrators’ main sit-in camp in Khartoum in a bloody crackdown that activists say killed at least 35 people.
Worshippers across the capital early Tuesday marked the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, closing the fasting month of Ramadan. Their Eid prayers on streets outside mosques turned into short political rallies, with some chanting, “Freedom, peace, justice and civilian government are the people’s choice.”
Heavy clashes erupted in the afternoon as security forces put down smaller protests in neighborhoods around the city. Organizers said at least two people were killed: a 14-year-old boy shot to death at a protest and a woman who was hit by a stray bullet in her home as security forces opened fire outside.
Security forces clamped down by sending large numbers of troops to patrol main avenues, activists said. A convoy of more than two dozen pick-up trucks stretched the length of al-Mashtal Street, a main commercial boulevard, each carrying six or seven fighters standing in the back, rifles at the ready, according to a photo online.
An online video showed dozens of gunmen from the Rapid Support Forces, their faces hidden by black masks, firing rifles in the air as they advanced on foot down a residential street in the central Bahri district.
The crackdown is largely being spearheaded by the RSF, an elite unit that human rights groups say carried out rapes, torture and killings of civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region.
The force, headed by the deputy head of the ruling military council, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, grew out of the Janjaweed militias used by the government in its suppression of the Darfur insurgency in a campaign that prompted charges of genocide against its perpetrators.
“Fall tonight, you and your Janjaweed,” a group of several hundred men, women and children were seen chanting in an online video at one of Tuesday’s protests.
The heaviest clashes erupted in Bahri district. There, young men set up small barricades of stones and metal fences and RSF fighters moved in, firing tear gas and live ammunition, said Mohammed Najib, a protester.
“Life is almost suspended in Bahri. The revolutionaries and RSF closed off the streets,” he said.
At least eight people, including a 5-year-old child, were wounded by bullets in various clashes, said Nazim Sirraj, a leading activist. The protest movement’s Doctors Committee said it was unable to track the total number of casualties because of poor internet communications.
Monday’s bloody dispersal of the sit-in poses a new challenge to the protest movement, which now aims to show it can keep up pressure in the streets after its central rallying point was wiped out. In April, the movement succeeded in forcing the military to remove Sudan’s longtime strongman, Omar al-Bashir. It then kept its sit-in going, demanding that the generals who took power hand over authority to civilians.
“We have no choice but to continue our protests and civil disobedience until the fall of the military council,” said Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has spearheaded the protests.
For weeks, the military and protest leaders were negotiating over the makeup of a transitional council meant to run the country for three years before elections. Protesters demand that civilians dominate the council, but the generals have resisted.
In Monday’s assault, RSF fighters and other troops waded into the protest camp outside the military’s headquarters, opening fire and burning down tents. Other troops crushed two smaller sit-ins organized by the protesters elsewhere.
The crackdown put an end to the relative peace that surrounded the talks and signaled the military had lost patience with activists’ demands. The result puts the two sides on the path of a potentially longer confrontation with increasing violence.
In a televised speech early Tuesday, the military council’s head, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, blamed protest leaders for the volatile situation, accusing them of drawing out negotiations and trying to exclude some “political and security forces” from taking part in any transitional government.
He announced the military would unilaterally form an interim government and hold elections sooner, within seven to nine months, under international supervision. He said any agreements reached in the negotiations were canceled.
Protesters rejected the move because it would put the military in charge of running the election.
“We are waiting impatiently for elections, but in such a situation, we do not need any military government or any elections,” one protester, Mohammed Adam Ibrahim, told The Associated Press.
Al-Mustafa, of the SPA, urged the international community and the U.N. Security Council to not recognize Burhan or the military authorities and put pressure on the generals to hand over power to a civilian-led authority. The U.N. Security Council was set to discuss the crackdown in Sudan later Tuesday in a closed session requested by the U.K. and Germany.
Human Rights Watch called for “an impartial, independent” U.N inquiry into the crackdown. “Key international actors should impose targeted punitive sanctions against those responsible,” said Jehanne Henry, the group’s associate Africa director.
Magdy reported from Cairo.