As death toll rises, Sudanese protestors demand end to military government

The death toll has reportedly reached 108, with hundreds more wounded, in a state crackdown against pro-democracy protests. Sudanese demonstrators say their campaign will not end until a transitional civilian authority is in place. 

Mohammed Najib/AP
Smoke rises behind street barricades laid by protestors in Khartoum to stop military vehicles June 5, 2019. The military government's response to the protests has grown increasingly violent, leading to a suspension by the African Union.

Sudan's pro-democracy leaders vowed Thursday to press their campaign of civil disobedience until the ruling military council is ousted and killers of protesters are brought to justice, following a crackdown this week that killed scores of people.

The African Union, meanwhile, announced it was suspending Sudan from all AU activities "with immediate effect" over the deadly unrest. The suspension, it said, would last until Sudan's military hands over power to a transitional civilian authority.

The developments followed new clashes that had brought the death toll in three days of the Sudanese military crackdown to 108. The Sudan Doctors Committee, one of the protest groups, reported Wednesday that troops were seen pulling 40 bodies of victims, slain by the security forces, from the Nile River in Khartoum and taking them away.

The committee said it was not known where they were taken. It also said more than 500 have been wounded in the crackdown.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella of union groups that has been behind months of rallies that forced the military to oust longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April, urged people to block main roads and bridges to "paralyze public life" across the country in retaliation for the military's crackdown.

The crackdown began with a violent dispersal of the protest movement's main sit-in camp, outside the military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, on Monday.

"Our success depends on our full adherence to peaceful protests, no matter how hard the criminal militias seek to drag us into violence," the association said in a Facebook statement Thursday.

Word about the retrieval of the bodies from the Nile came as Sudan's ruling general called for a resumption of negotiations with the protest leaders, which they promptly rejected. They said the generals cannot be serious about talks while troops keep killing protesters.

The protesters said that instead, they would continue their demonstrations and strikes seeking to pressure the military into handing over power to a civilian authority.

Meanwhile, Sudan's military-controlled health ministry is disputing the death toll of 108 killed in the crackdown. The ministry's undersecretary, Soliman Abdel Gaber, issued a statement insisting that only 46 people died in this week's violence.

Since Monday's violent dispersal of the protest sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, violent clashes have erupted in other parts of Sudan.

The protest leaders said there were attacks in 13 cities and towns this week perpetrated by security forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which grew out of the Janjaweed militias used by Mr. Bashir's government to suppress the Darfur insurgency in the 2000s, a campaign that prompted charges of genocide against its perpetrators.

Before Monday's crackdown began, the military and protest leaders had for weeks negotiated the makeup of a transitional council meant to run the country until elections. The protesters demanded civilians dominate the council, which the generals resisted.

After the crackdown, the military suspended the talks and canceled all agreed-on points. It also announced the military would form a government and hold elections within seven to nine months.

But the head of the military council, Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, then on Wednesday abruptly announced the generals were prepared to resume negotiations – an offer the protesters immediately turned down.

In Moscow, a top diplomat said Russia – which has largely stayed on the sidelines of the crisis in Sudan – opposes "any foreign intervention" and believes a compromise is needed.

Mikhail Bogdanov, chief of the foreign ministry's Middle East desk, told local news agencies that Russian diplomats are in touch with all political players in Sudan, including the opposition. Mr. Bogdanov visited Khartoum earlier this year.

From Ethiopia, the African Union's Peace and Security Council posted on Twitter that Sudan's suspension will remain in effect until "the effective establishment" of a civilian-led transitional authority, "as the only way to allow the Sudan to exit from the current crisis."

The decision came during an AU meeting on the Sudanese crisis. The AU's Peace and Security Council is in charge of enforcing union decisions, somewhat similar to the United Nations Security Council. It was not immediately clear what the suspension would mean in practice.

The chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, earlier this week strongly condemned the violence in Sudan and urged the country's ruling military council "to protect the civilians from further harm."

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Associated Press writers Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

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