Protests in sudan: fear after a night of violence

No sooner does an agreement emerge between the military and the protest movement in Sudan than gunmen attack demonstrators in Khartoum.

Despite Ramadan, protesters in Sudan take to the streets Photo: ap

Anger, grief and insecurity reign in Sudan after five protesters and a soldier were killed Tuesday night at the protest site outside army headquarters. Dozens of wounded with gunshot wounds are being treated in hospitals. The opposition and army believe the perpetrators, who were wearing military uniforms, are loyalists of ex-President Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted just over a month ago. They fired on the protesters after the military council and the civilian opposition announced Monday night that they were close to an agreement on the country’s future leadership.

Panic reigned after the first shots echoed across the square. Dead and wounded were quickly carried away, while people fled into the darkness of the night. But shortly after, hundreds of people marched back toward the square, shouting, "Where are we going? To death! Where is death?" As the sun rose, calm returned to the city.

"We have always feared this," young businessman Mohamed el-Munzir Salman reported the next morning. "That’s why we put up three barricades around the square, where our own stewards search everyone for weapons. There are so many from the Bashir regime who are trying to incite us against the military to create chaos and then take power again."

Sudan’s feared domestic intelligence agency, NISS, stated directly that it had nothing to do with the shooting. In early April, NISS opened fire on demonstrators outside military headquarters, prompting soldiers to fire back as protectors of the opposition. That ended a few days later with the fall of Bashir.

The army has been protecting protesters in the square ever since. But the army is opposed to spreading the barricades around the city, and that already led to major tensions during the day Monday, when protesters blocked some main roads and declared Tuesday "Civil Disobedience Day." The Rapid Support Force (RSF) militia dispersed the protesters with tear gas, shots in the air and even whips. Some demonstrators were injured in the process.

Return of ex-president unlikely

By expanding their actions, the demonstrators want to increase pressure on the military to speed up the transfer of power to a civilian government. The opposition believes the military council, which has ruled since Bashir’s overthrow, is dragging out talks on a transitional government – hoping Ramadan will weaken the protesters and they will go home.

Mohamed Salman, businessman

"There are so many from the Bashir regime who are trying to create chaos"

But the opposition has made provisions. Tents allow fasting people to sit in the shade while temperatures outside soar above 40 degrees and the blazing sun is unbearable. In the morning, a steady stream of citizens arrive to donate water, food and medicine. As soon as the sun sets, food and drink are ready for the demonstrators.

The protest also continues beyond the square in front of the military headquarters. Workers at the electricity company are on strike because they believe the frequent blackouts are unnecessary, and because customers sometimes attack them out of anger. They demand the dismissal of the director. Some residents, especially of working-class neighborhoods, believe the army is behind the power shortage.

Despite Monday night’s announcement by the opposition and the military council that they are close to a compromise, much is still unclear. The two sides agree on the structure and what powers the presidential council, cabinet and parliament should have in the future, but not on the length of the transition period and the distribution of posts between the military and civilians. The opposition wants a four-year transition period, while two years is enough for the military. The most difficult issue is whether there should be a majority of civilians or military personnel, and thus which side has the final say.

But a return of ex-President Bashir seems increasingly unlikely. Prosecutors have charged him with incitement and involvement in the deaths of protesters. He is also under investigation for gold laundering and terrorist financing. Bashir’s fate is unknown. He is reported to have been arrested.

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