KHARTOUM: Sudanese authorities admitted dozens of people were killed in a crackdown on protesters but denied doctors’ claims the death toll has topped 100, as heavily armed paramilitaries guarded the tense capital.
Members of the Rapid Support Forces were on the streets of Khartoum on Thursday in pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns and rocket launchers, witnesses said.
Some life had returned to the streets of the capital on Thursday, with limited public transport operating and only a few cars on the roads.
A small number of shops and restaurants were open on the second day of the Eid Al-Fitr holiday. But there was still widespread disruption around the capital.
At Khartoum’s airport relatives of travelers stayed late into the night waiting to see if their flights would arrive, following a slew of cancelations over the past few days.
Internet blackouts continued to beset the city.
The military ousted longtime president Omar Al-Bashir in April after months of protests against his rule, but thousands of demonstrators had remained camped out in front of the army headquarters calling for the generals to cede power to civilians.
Despite several initial breakthroughs, talks between the ruling military council that took power after Bashir’s ouster and protest leaders reached a deadlock over who should head a new governing body.
On Monday, security forces moved in to disperse the weeks-long rally outside army headquarters.
As international condemnation mounted, the Health Ministry said “no more than 46” people had been killed in “recent events.”
The UN and the British Embassy announced they were pulling non-essential staff from Sudan, and the US warned its citizens to exercise “extreme caution” amid the ongoing uncertainty.
Despite the heavy presence of security forces on Khartoum’s main streets, the groups that spearheaded the demonstrations against Bashir made a fresh call on Thursday for civil disobedience.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, the group that initially launched the anti-Bashir campaign, urged an “indefinite strike and civil disobedience.”
In the northern suburb of Bahri, connecting and smaller roads in the neighborhood were blocked by protesters putting up makeshift barricades made from rocks, bricks and tree trunks.
Heavily deployed in the streets of the capital, some residents seemed wary of the paramilitaries as they moved around the streets.
RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as “Himediti,” said he was on the side of the “revolutionaries,” but warned he would not “allow chaos,” referring specifically to the barricades put up in some neighborhoods.
The ruling Military Council issued a statement hitting out at the “campaign organized on social media aimed at spreading lies and fabricating accusations.”
It claimed the RSF “refused to carry out the orders of the former regime to expel demonstrators from the sit-in by force.”
The armed forces also issued a statement urging citizens to stay away from military sites, without giving a reason.
Russia on Thursday urged against outside interference in Sudan.
“We are against outside interference, one cannot impose something on the Sudanese,” Mikhail Bogdanov, deputy foreign minister, told reporters in St. Petersburg.
He said Russia was in touch with all political forces in Sudan, including the military and the opposition, calling for dialogue to resolve the crisis.
But Bogdanov also stressed the importance of “bringing about order” as well as the fight against extremists.
“The situation is rather complicated,” Bogdanov said, quoted by Russian news agencies.
“We are in favor of all issues being solved within the framework of national dialogue, on the basis of consensus-based solutions.”
He stressed the importance of a “transitional period, which should end with elections.”
Meanwhile, the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council voted to suspend Sudan from all AU activities until a civilian government has been formed.
The council made the announcement after a meeting in Addis Ababa of the member states of the pan-continental body.