Death toll rises as Sudan’s capital is rocked by more fighting

Security forces have clashed with angry protesters over a military coup that derailed a fragile transition to democracy and sparked an international outcry, with the United States and the United Nations increasing pressure on Sudan’s new military government.

At least one protester died on Thursday, doctors say, on the fourth day of clashes between soldiers and anti-coup protesters in Khartoum, when the UN Security Council called on the military to restore the civilian-led government they toppled on Monday.

The council, in a unanimously approved statement, expressed “serious concern” over the army’s seizure of power in the poverty-stricken northeast African nation and urged all parties to “engage in dialogue without preconditions.”

Following the UN Security Council statement, US President Joe Biden said his nation supported the protesters.

“Together, our message to the military authorities in Sudan is overwhelming and clear: the Sudanese people must be allowed to protest peacefully and the civilian-led transitional government must be restored,” he said in a statement.

“The events of the last few days are a serious setback, but the United States will continue to support the people of Sudan and their non-violent struggle,” said Biden, whose government has frozen aid.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s de facto leader since the 2019 ouster of former leader Omar al-Bashir after huge youth-led protests, dissolved the country’s fragile government on Monday.

While the civilian leader, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, has been under effective house arrest, the capital has been rocked by days of unrest and is preparing for large demonstrations on Saturday.

Roads have been blocked by barricades of rocks, debris and burning car tires that have sent black smoke into the sky, while most shops have been closed in a campaign of civil disobedience.

“We do not want military power, we want a free democratic life in this country,” a protester who asked not to be identified told the AFP news agency.

The latest street clashes on Thursday shook the restless Burri district in eastern Khartoum and the Khartoum North suburb, AFP journalists said.

At least one protester was killed in the clashes in Khartoum North, said a committee of doctors linked to the protest movement.

The latest death brought the number of protesters killed since Monday’s coup to at least eight, down from the number of seven reported by health officials that same day. Some 170 have been injured.

On Thursday, tear gas and rubber-coated bullets were fired at protesters, and witnesses reported several injuries.

The coup was the last to hit the country, which has experienced only rare democratic interludes since independence in 1956.

The World Bank and the United States have frozen aid and denounced the military takeover, while the African Union has suspended Sudan’s membership for what it called the “unconstitutional” takeover.

The US, the EU, the UK, Norway and other nations highlighted in a joint statement their continued recognition of the “prime minister and his cabinet as the constitutional leaders of the transitional government.”

Sudan has been ruled since August 2019 by a joint civil-military council, along with the Hamdok administration, as part of a transition to full civilian rule.

In recent years, the country, previously blacklisted by the United States as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” has moved toward rejoining the international community, hoping to boost aid and investment.

But analysts had said that the role of civilians receded before the coup, which experts saw as the generals’ way of maintaining their long-standing control over the country.

Tear gas, rubber bullets

Recalling the massive protests of 2019, Sudan’s pro-democracy movements have called for “protests of a million people” on Saturday, further intensifying tensions.

A protester on Thursday described the game of cat and mouse with security forces, saying that “they have been trying since yesterday morning to remove all of our barricades, firing tear gas and rubber bullets.”

“But we go and rebuild them as soon as they leave,” added the activist, Hatem Ahmed, from Khartoum. “We will only remove the barricades when the civilian government is back.”

Al-Burhan, a high-ranking general during al-Bashir’s three-decade hardline rule, has fired six Sudanese ambassadors, including those from the United States, the EU, China and France, who have criticized his actions.

Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, whose father was the prime minister deposed in al-Bashir’s coup in 1989, is one of the few civilian leaders who is not in detention and has become a of the main critical voices.

On Thursday, he praised diplomats – 68 according to one of them – who have opposed the inauguration, saying that “any free ambassador who opposes the coup is a victory for the revolution.”

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