KHARTOUM/JEDDAH: Sudanese security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades on Sunday at hundreds of thousands of protesters who held a rally in Khartoum to demand a civilian-led transition to democracy.
The protests came on the third anniversary of demonstrations that led to a popular uprising and the overthrow of dictator Omar Bashir.
Demonstrators at the presidential palace in Khartoum chanted slogans against military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, who led a coup on Oct. 25. “The people want the downfall of Burhan,” they shouted as additional security forces were deployed to surround the swelling crowd.
Protesters blocked roads around the area where the rally took place. Many carried Sudanese flags and photos of protesters who were killed in demonstrations in the past few months.
Some protesters managed to reach the gates of the palace and the protest's organisers called on more to join a planned sit-in there after sundown.
The outpouring of protest, the ninth major demonstration since the coup and one of the largest, marked the 2018 burning of a ruling party building which touched off a popular uprising that led to the overthrow of long-ruling Islamist autocrat Omar Al-Bashir.
Sudan’s generals in the post-Bashir transition government launched their coup almost two months ago. They held civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok under effective house arrest, but reinstated him on Nov. 21.
The move alienated many of Hamdok’s pro-democracy supporters, who dismissed it as providing a cloak of legitimacy for Burhan’s coup. “Any coup, even after the reinstatement of Hamdok, is unacceptable,” one protester said on Sunday.
“Our glorious December revolution is seeking civil institutions, not particular individuals.”
Hamdok, who has argued he wants to avoid further bloodshed, warned of “the country’s slide toward the abyss,” and urged restraint. “We’re facing today a sizeable regression in the path of our revolution that threatens the security of the nation, its unity and its stability,” he said.
But protest organizers have said they want “no negotiation, no partnership and no legitimacy” for the current leadership. One protester draped in a Sudanese flag said: “I came out today in complete refusal of the political agreement. This deal doesn’t represent the people. We have one demand and that’s a civilian government, not one that ends up being under military control.”
Previous protests against the military takeover have been forcibly dispersed. Nationwide, at least 45 people have been killed and scores more wounded, according to the independent Doctors’ Committee.
On Sunday, authorities shut off bridges linking the capital with its twin city Omdurman, but large crowds still gathered. “The numbers are huge and security forces can’t control them,” said one witness to the protests in Omdurman.
Khaled Omer, a minister in the ousted government, said the coup was a “catastrophe” but also “an opportunity to rectify the deficiencies” of the previous political arrangement with the army.
He warned that anything could happen over the next few months with the military still firmly in power. “If the main political actors don’t get their act together and the miliary establishment doesn’t distance itself from politics ... then all scenarios are on the table,” he said.