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Sudan crackdown: At least 100 dead after attacks on protesters

Opposition group says hundreds are being treated for critical injuries amid reports of bodies dumped in the Nile
Security forces patrol as Muslim worshippers perform Eid al-Fitr prayers in Omdurman on Wednesday (AFP)

At least 100 people have been killed in a two-day crackdown on Sudanese protesters carried out by troops and paramilitaries, a doctors' committee close to the demonstrators said on Wednesday.

It said it had received eyewitness reports of bodies still to be recovered from the site of the sit-in as well as reports of bodies being dumped in the Nile by security forces.

A previous toll given by the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors had counted 35 dead since the security forces bloodily dispersed a weeks-long sit-in outside army headquarters in Khartoum on Monday.

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But the doctors 'committee said that it still expected the death toll to rise.

It said at least 326 people were injured and that most required "urgent surgical intervention and intensive care".

Forty bodies were pulled out of the river near the capital Khartoum, the doctors' committee said on Wednesday.

Video shared with Middle East Eye by an activist and verified by our correspondent appeared to show a body being recovered from the river.

Sudan's main opposition group has called for an international inquiry into the killing of the protesters.

Sudanese Professionals' Association (SPA) spokesman Amjad Farid said it rejected a plan to set up a governmental investigative committee, as announced by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC).

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemeti, the TMC's vice president, said on Wednesday that the investigation had begun.

"The council has initiated an independent investigation... an urgent and transparent investigation with fast results," said Hemeti.

"Any person who crossed boundaries has to be punished."

Talks rejected

A Sudanese alliance of protesters and opposition groups on Wednesday rejected the ruling military council's invitation to talks.

Burhan had said on Wednesday that the council was still open to talks with opposition groups without any conditions.

The TMC leader made the comments in a message to mark the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, one day after he announced that the council was cancelling all agreements with a coalition of protesters and opposition groups and would instead call national elections within nine months.

"We do not accept the Transitional Military Council's invitation .. because it is not a source of trust... It is imposing fear on citizens in the streets," Madani Abbas Madani, a leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces, told Reuters.

The military council has ruled the country since the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir on 11 April, following months of protests against his three-decade authoritarian rule.

Sudan's protests: A brief timeline

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Sudan protests

Sudanese protests have evolved in the space of less than six months from complaints about bread prices to calls for long-term leader Omar al-Bashir to go and demands for a civilian-led transition to democracy.

Here's a summary of the key moments so far since the protests began. 

19 December 2018: People take to the streets in the city of Atbara to protest against a government decision to triple the price of bread, torching a local ruling party office. By the next day protesters on the streets of Khartoum and other cities calling for "freedom, peace, justice". Police try to disperse the crowds, resulting in at least eight deaths. Dozens more will be killed in the weeks of protest that follow

22 February 2019: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir declares a nationwide state of emergency. He swears in a new prime minister two days later, as riot police confront hundreds of protesters calling for him to resign

6 April: Thousands gather outside the army's headquarters in Khartoum, chanting "one army, one people" in a plea for the military's support. They defy attempts by state security forces to dislodge them and troops intervene to protect them

11 April: Military authorities announce they have removed Bashir and that a transitional military council will govern for two years. Despite celebrations at Bashir's demise, protest leaders denounce the move as a "coup" and the protesters remain camped outside army headquarters.

14 April: Protest leaders call on the military council to transfer power to a civilian government

20 April: Sudan's military rulers hold a first round of talks with protest leaders

27 April: The two sides agree to establish a joint civilian-military ruling council, but talks stall over differences in the composition of the council, with both sides demanding a a majority

15 May: With negotiators reported to be close to agreeing a three-year transition to civilian rule, military leaders suspend talks and insist protesters remove barricades outside the army's headquarters. Talks resume on 19 May but break down again on 20 May, with the opposition insistent that a civilian must head the transitional governing body

28 May: Thousands of workers begin a two-day strike to pressure the military rulers and call for civilian government

3 June: At least 35 people killed and hundreds injured, according to opposition-aligned doctors, as security forces firing live ammunition move to disperse the protest camp outside army headquarters

4 June: General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the military council, announces that all previous agreements with protest leaders are scrapped and says elections will be held in nine months

Negotiations between the military rulers and protest leaders broke down over disagreements on whether a planned transitional body would be headed by a civilian or a military figure.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday called for a resumption of dialogue between "various political forces" in Sudan, expressing concern after the bloody crackdown.

"The kingdom affirms the importance of resuming the dialogue between the various parties in Sudan to fulfil the aspirations of the brotherly Sudanese people," said the statement of the official Saudi Press Agency.

Meanwhile, the deputy head of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North rebel group has been detained, a spokesman for the movement said on Wednesday.

Yasir Arman had been living in exile and was sentenced to death in absentia over his actions in the group, but returned to Sudan recently, Reuters reported.

He was arrested by security forces, the spokesman said.

China, Russia block UN action

China, backed by Russia, blocked a bid at the UN Security Council on Tuesday to condemn the killing of civilians in Sudan and issue a pressing call from world powers for an immediate halt to the violence, diplomats said.

During a closed-door council meeting, Britain and Germany circulated a press statement that would have called on Sudan's military rulers and protesters to "continue working together towards a consensual solution to the current crisis", according to the draft seen by AFP.

But China firmly objected to the proposed text while Russia insisted that the council should await a response from the African Union, diplomats said.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said the proposed statement was "unbalanced" and stressed the need to be "very cautious in this situation".

"We don't want to promote an unbalanced statement. It could just spoil the situation," Polyanskiy told reporters after the two-hour meeting.

European countries condemn attacks

After the council failed to agree, eight European countries said in joint statement that they "condemn the violent attacks in Sudan by Sudanese security services against civilians".

Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, The Netherlands and Sweden said the military council's "unilateral announcement to cease negotiations, appoint a government and call for elections within a too short period of time is of great concern".

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"We call for an agreed transfer of power to a civilian-led government as demanded by the people of Sudan," said the European statement.

Council diplomats looked to a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council on Wednesday to provide a response to the crisis.

Sudan's opposition has urged "some Arab countries" to end their support for the country’s military council, in a message seemingly aimed at Saudi Arabia and its regional allies.

The Democratic Alliance of Lawyers accused some countries of “protecting their own interests” in Sudan.

"We ask that some Arab countries lift their hands from Sudan and stop supporting the Military Council and consolidating the pillars of its rule with the aim of preserving it and protecting their own interests that are harmful to the Sudanese state and its citizens," said the alliance, part of the SPA, which has played a leading role in nearly six months of protests.

'Oppression and brutality'

The SPA has made a plea to local doctors, asking them to go to hospitals to help treat protesters that have been injured in the ongoing deadly crackdown by security forces.

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"We call on all of our country's honourable doctors to head to the hospitals and serve in the emergency rooms to treat the wounded," the SPA said on Twitter on Tuesday.

Referring to the TMC as "the council of oppression and brutality", the group accused Sudanese military forces of violently targeting civilians.

On Tuesday, a group of Sudanese doctors in London also accused the military forces of carrying out attacks on hospitals and staff across the country, AFP news agency reported.

"Hospitals have been systematically attacked and medical staff have been brutally... savagely beaten in Sudan," said Hussam Almujammer, a member of the Sudanese Doctors Union.

Jehanne Henry, the associate Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said reports of sexual assaults by the security forces were credible but the extent of such violence was unclear.

"There are beatings on the streets. It looks like a bunch of thugs. There has been sexual violence... This would not be a surprise," Henry told the UK's Guardian newspaper.