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Sudan's military council blames student killings on forces guarding bank

Council says seven members of security force have been dismissed and referred for prosecution
Teenagers were rallying against fuel and bread shortages when their demonstration was violently dispersed by security forces (AFP)

Sudan's Transitional Military Council (TMC) has blamed a security force assigned to guard a bank for the killing of four schoolchildren in El-Obeid during a protest march this week, a member of the council was cited by SUNA news agency as saying on Thursday.

"The force which was guarding the Sudanese French Bank fired the live rounds that led to the regrettable losses in the state of North Kordofan," said Lieutenant General Jamal Aldin Omar Ibrahim, head of the TMC's security committee, according to the state-run news agency.

The seven-member security force has been dismissed and referred to the prosecution to face trial, he said.

Talks between the TMC, which took power following the overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir, and the Sudanese opposition over the makeup of a transitional government have been thrown into question by the deadly shooting.

But both parties said talks were set to continue on Thursday.

That same day, medics tied to Sudan's opposition movement said at least four people were killed in Omdurman, the sister city of capital Khartoum, as hundreds of thousands took to the streets to keep up pressure on the military council.

Organisers had called for a million-person march in response to the killing of the young protesters in El-Obeid, Reuters reported.

Hundreds of teenagers were rallying against fuel and bread shortages in the city's market on Monday when they came under intense fire from Sudanese security forces. 

Five people, including four children, were killed, with a sixth person dying from wounds on Thursday, according to SUNA. At least 20 people were wounded in the attack.

Footage circulated on social media also showed Sudanese security forces firing heavy machine guns in the direction of the march.

Teachers blamed

Several hours after the deadly shooting in El-Obeid, SUNA quoted Lieutenant Ibrahim as saying that the TMC held members of the teachers' committee accountable for the schoolchildren's deaths.

Ibrahim said the committee was part of the opposition Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has been credited with spearheading widespread popular protests that began in December against Bashir's rule.

According to a TMC statement read by the commander and quoted by SUNA, "a group of young teachers have forcefully pushed schoolchildren and directly instigated them" to protest.

It added that the two responsible teachers had been identified.

The teachers "beat some of the [female] teachers in the El-Obeid Highschool for Girls and pressured them to let out the students to participate in the protests," the TMC statement said.

The deadly incident has stoked widespread anger among Sudanese citizens, many of whom have continued to protest across the country despite the harsh crackdown by security forces. 

Footage that appeared to show demonstrators demanding justice and chanting against the army also circulated on social media on Thursday.

Translation: "It's alright.. It's alright.. It's alright.. We don't have an army".. March in Al-Balabel St. heading to Sixtieth, at 1:50pm #El-Obeid_Bleeding #Fair_Retaliation_MillionManMarch

Meanwhile, talks over the formation of a joint transitional government continued between the council and the opposition Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

Deal 'around the corner'

Following the latest round of negotiations on Thursday, opposition leaders said they had resolved major sticking points and were closer to a deal.

Despite signing an agreement in July that secured a three-year transition period and a joint sovereign council with a rotating leadership, talks over the wording of a constitutional declaration on the changes have stalled.

"The agreement is really now just around the corner," FFC leader Satea al-Hajj said in a news conference in Khartoum, as reported by Reuters.

The opposition had demanded that members of the sovereign council not be granted blanket immunity from prosecution for past crimes.

On Thursday, FFC leaders said they had agreed for members to be granted "procedural immunity,"  meaning they could be tried only with the approval of two-thirds of the legislative council.

The opposition leaders said both sides also agreed to another key point, reaffirming that the parties included in the FFC would make up 67 percent of the legislative council.

The remainder of the seats would be taken up by other opposition and political groups.

Sudan's ruling military council did not immediately confirm the details of the agreements.