Armed men wearing masks have killed 20 people in morning attacks against anti-government protesters massed outside the army headquarters in Sudan’s capital, the country’s main opposition leader said on Tuesday.
Sadiq al-Mahdi, former premier and now a protest organizer against President Omar al-Bashir’s government, said the attacks had been carried out every morning since the sit-in began on April 6.
“There are armed men in masks attacking people at the sit-in every morning,” Mahdi, chief of the opposition National Umma Party, told reporters in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum.
“This has left 20 martyrs.”
Sudan’s Interior Minister Bushara Juma said on Monday that seven protesters died, including six in the state of Khartoum, when security forces dispersed anti-government protests held on April 6.
Officials say 38 people have died so far in protest related violence since demonstrations erupted across Sudan December.
Thousands of protesters have massed outside the army headqurters for a fourth straight day, demanding that the military's top brass back them in demanding Bashir’s resignation.
The demonstration is the latest in nearly four months of anti-government protests that have plunged Sudan into its worst crisis in years. What initially erupted late last year as rallies against a spiraling economy quickly escalated into calls for an end to President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule.
On Monday for the first time, leaders of the protests called on the military’s leadership to abandon al-Bashir and join their call for change. And on Tuesday, they invited military leaders to meet with their representatives to “discuss arrangements for a transition” in Sudan.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, Norway, the UK and the US backed the protesters’ demands, urging Sudanese authorities to “deliver a credible plan” for political transition.
“Failing to do so risks causing greater instability. The Sudanese leadership has a grave responsibility to avoid such an outcome,” they said.
Sarah Abdel-Jaleel, spokeswoman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, said the new clashes erupted early on Tuesday between security forces and protesters who have been camping out in front of the military complex in Khartoum for the past four days.
The police used tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire to try to disperse the protesters, according to Abdel-Jaleel’s union, which is spearheading the demonstrations. It was the second time security forced failed to break up the sit-in protests, which has grown into one of the biggest rallies in the current wave of unrest.
But a crack seemed to be emerging among the Sudanese authorities and the military as to how to handle the protests.
Online video footage circulating on Tuesday showed some Sudanese troops seeking to protect the protesters and guarding the entrance to the sit-in area. Heavy gunfire can be heard as protesters seek cover from the descending security forces. Other video clips show burned police vehicles used as trash dumps.
153 people were wounded
The Sudan Doctors Committee, an affiliate of the union, said at least 153 people were wounded since Saturday. It said the five soldiers, including a captain, were killed while defending the protesters in the past two days.
The medical group said troops guarding the military’s complex, which also houses the Defense Ministry and a presidential residence, chased the security forces away, firing into the air for the second night.
It said that apart from the officer, six protesters were also killed. Abdel-Jaleel, the spokeswoman, said at least 30 protesters were wounded in the violence.
A government spokesman didn’t respond to calls seeking comment. The county’s interior minister, Bishara Gomaa, told the parliament on Monday that at least seven people were killed in the protests since Saturday - six in Khartoum and the seventh in the Darfur region. There was no word from the army on the latest military death.
A split between Sudan’s militantly and its security agencies could mark a significant turning point for the protesters.
Gen. Awad Mohammed Ibn Auf, the country’s defense minister and vice president, denied any divisions and said the military and the security apparatus were coordinating on how to deal with the protesters. “There are parties trying to exploit the current situation to create strife between the components of the security system in the country,” he told a meeting with senior officers on Monday.
Despite the deaths, the mood among protesters at the sit-in on Tuesday was upbeat, with online videos showing the demonstrators singing traditional songs and shouting, “Revolution!”
They also chanted, “The people want the fall of the regime,” one of the main slogans from the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2011.