KHARTOUM / JEDDAH: Sudanese security forces on Sunday fired tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of thousands of protesters who staged a rally in Khartoum to demand a civilian-led transition to democracy.
The protests took place on the third anniversary of the protests that led to a popular uprising and the overthrow of dictator Omar Bashir.
Protesters at the presidential palace in Khartoum chanted slogans against the military leader, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, who carried out a coup on October 25. “The people want Burhan down,” they shouted as additional security forces were deployed to surround the swollen crowd.
Protesters blocked roads around the area where the rally took place. Many carried Sudanese flags and pictures of protesters killed during protests in recent months.
Some protesters made it to the palace gates, and protest organizers called for more to join a planned sit-in after sunset.
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 that sparked a popular uprising that led to the overthrow longtime Islamist autocrat Omar Al-Bashir.
Sudanese generals in the post-Bashir transitional government launched their coup nearly two months ago. They placed civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok under house arrest, but reinstated him on November 21.
The move alienated many pro-democracy Hamdok supporters, who dismissed it as offering a cover of legitimacy to Burhan’s coup. “Any coup, even after Hamdok’s recovery, is unacceptable,” a protester said on Sunday.
“Our glorious December revolution is looking for civilian institutions, not specific individuals. “
Hamdok, who argued he wanted to avoid further bloodshed, warned of “the country’s slide into the abyss” and called for restraint. “Today we are facing a major setback on the path of our revolution which threatens the security of the nation, its unity and its stability,” he said.
But protest organizers said they wanted “no negotiations, no partnerships and no legitimacy” for the current leadership. A protester draped in a Sudanese flag said: “I walked out today in total denial of the political agreement. This agreement does not represent the people. We have a demand and this is a civilian government, not a government that ends up under military control.
Previous protests against the military takeover were forcibly dispersed. Nationwide, at least 45 people have been killed and dozens more injured, according to the Independent Committee of Physicians.
Authorities closed bridges connecting the capital to its sister city Omdurman on Sunday, but large crowds still gathered. “The numbers are huge and the security forces cannot control them,” a witness to the protests in Omdurman said.
Khaled Omer, a deposed government minister, said the coup was a “disaster” but also “an opportunity to rectify the loopholes” of the previous political agreement with the military.
He warned anything could happen over the next few months with the military still firmly in power. “If the main political players do not get along and the military establishment does not distance itself from politics (…) then all scenarios are on the table,” he said.