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Friday 23 August 2019

Sudanese protest leaders reject military call for talks as death toll soars

A long sit-in by pro-democracy demonstrators outside the military headquarters in Khartoum was wiped out on Monday.

A protester in Khartoum (AP Photo)
A protester in Khartoum (AP Photo)

By Bassam Hatoum and Samy Magdy, Associated Press

Sudanese protest organisers have dismissed a call by ruling generals to resume talks, saying the military is “not serious” about negotiating with protesters while killing them at the same time.

Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association which is leading the pro-democracy demonstrations, said the protesters “totally reject” the call from General Abdel-Fattah Burhan for the resumption of talks.

He said: “This call is not serious. Burhan and those under him have killed the Sudanese and are still doing it. Their vehicles patrol the streets, firing at people.

“We will continue in our protests, resistance, strike and total civil disobedience.”

Sudan’s military council had earlier said the ruling generals were ready to resume negotiations, after three days of a violent crackdown on protesters that left 60 dead across the country.

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General Abdel-Fattah Burhan (Sudan TV/AP)

Gen Burhan said there would be “no restrictions” in talks with the leaders behind months-long street protests, adding that those responsible for the violent break-up of the sit-in in the capital Khartoum would be held accountable.

The death toll in the military’s crackdown on protesters reached 60 on Wednesday, organisers said.

The mounting casualties are the latest challenge to the protest movement, which now aims to show it can keep up pressure in the streets after its central rallying point — the weeks-long sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum — was wiped out on Monday.

In April, the movement forced the military to remove Sudan’s long-time leader Omar al-Bashir. It then kept its sit-in going, demanding that the generals who took power hand authority to civilians.

The last previously reported death toll stood at 40 but the Sudan Doctors Committee said security forces killed at least 10 people on Wednesday in Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman. That came after another 10 people were killed on Tuesday, including five in White Nile state, three in Omdurman and two in Khartoum’s Bahri neighbourhood.

The doctors’ committee is the medical arm of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has been spearheading protests against army rule.

The medical group said at least 326 people had been wounded in clashes in the past two days, and it feared the final death toll would be much higher.

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A main street in the Sudanese capital Khartoum (AP)

On Monday, members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which human rights groups say carried out rapes, torture and killings of civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region, and other troops waded into the protest camp outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum, opening fire and burning down tents.

Other troops crushed two smaller sit-ins organised by the protesters elsewhere.

After Mr al-Bashir’s removal, the military and protest leaders negotiated over the make-up of a transitional council meant to run the country for three years before elections.

Protesters demand that civilians dominate the council, but the generals resisted.

The crackdown put an end to the relative peace that surrounded the talks and signalled the military had lost patience with activists’ demands, putting the two sides on the path of a potentially longer confrontation with increasing violence.

Gen Burhan’s latest remarks marked a significant change from his televised speech early on Tuesday, when he 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 also announced the military would unilaterally form an interim government and hold elections sooner, within seven to nine months, under international supervision, and said any agreements reached earlier in the negotiations with the demonstrators were cancelled.

Protesters rejected the move because it would put the military in charge of running the election.

PA Media

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