In Brief

13 dead as Sudanese forces storm protest camp

Worst violence since the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir raises fears of hardline military crackdown

Sudanese security forces have stormed Khartoum's main protest camp, killing at least 13 people and injuring dozens more in the worst violence since President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in April.

Protesters had congregated outside the Defence Ministry in Sudan's capital, opposing the interim military council that has ruled since a coup ousted the country's long-time dictator.

An interim military council said it would lead the country through a transition period of up to two years, “but protesters vowed to remain in the streets until a return to civilian government was guaranteed”, reports CNN.

“Though consensus on the broad outlines of a deal to install a civilian government has been reached, protracted negotiations between a coalition of pro-reform groups and the military have foundered on the question of who would dominate the top decision-making body during an interim period,” reports The Guardian.

According to a local medical association linked to the opposition, security forces used live ammunition in a major operation to disperse protesters from the central Khartoum sit-in, which has been the centre of a campaign to bring democratic reform to Sudan.

News of the crackdown sparked unrest across the capital as well as in the neighbouring city of Omdurman.

In response, the Sudanese opposition suspended talks with the ruling body, accusing the military council of breaking up the camp and orchestrating “a massacre”.

The Declaration of Freedom and Change Alliance, an umbrella group for opposition groups and protest leaders, said in a statement that “the leaders of this council are criminally responsible for all the bloodshed that took place since 11 April”. Opposition leaders vowed to take the generals to court while at the same time calling for a general strike and civil disobedience.

Some Khartoum residents have blamed the crackdown on the notorious paramilitary unit known as the Rapid Support Forces, which was set up to help keep Bashir in power and has its roots in the Darfur conflict in western Sudan, which began in 2003.

The commander of the RSF, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, “is a close ally of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and sent Sudanese troops to join the coalition they lead in Yemen’s civil war”, reports Reuters.

According to the news agency, “the UAE and Saudi Arabia believe political Islam is an existential threat and are eager to root out Islamists who dominated in Sudan under Bashir’s three-decade rule”, meanwhile “the military’s role in ousting Bashir has raised fears among many Sudanese that their country could follow a similar path to neighbouring Egypt after its 2011 uprising”.

“It is probably no coincidence that the sudden, violent crackdown on protesters in central Khartoum follows a series of meetings between the leaders of Sudan’s military junta and autocratic Arab regimes that are actively attempting to shape the country’s future,” writes Simon Tisdall in The Guardian.

“Analysts say the rulers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, no friends to democratic governance, are acting in concert to thwart the aspirations of Sudan’s reform movement,” he writes.

“What matters is which faction of the security forces has the upper hand in the Transitional Military Council (TMC),” says Tomi Oladipo, BBC's Africa security correspondent.

“The hardliners, particularly the RSF appear to be leading the way and could display more ruthlessness than has been seen so far,” he writes. “There has been a total lockdown in Khartoum, indicating something has shifted within the regime. ‘People power’ is taking a big hit, but protesters could be willing to take greater risks to force the military's hand, if possible”.

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