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Africa

40 killed in Sudan protests as security forces use live rounds

media Sudanese demonstrators during anti-government protests in Khartoum, 25 December 2018. Photo: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

At least 40 people have been killed in a deadly crackdown on protests in Sudan during spontaneous demonstrations over the past two weeks, according to a Sudanese doctors union. The capital Khartoum was reportedly calm on Wednesday following a heavy-handed response over recent days by security forces in dealing with widespread protests against the government.

“Demonstrations started on 19 December and since then we’ve been very concerned,” Sara Abdelgalil, the president of the Sudan Doctors Union’s branch in the UK, told RFI. The SDU branch has been coordinating with colleagues in Sudan on a daily basis to collate information about hospital admissions.

Hospitals have seen an increase in serious injuries over two weeks of protests with a university student paralysed, another student with a serious head injury and another person with a chest injury and a bullet lodged near their spine, according to Abdelgalil.

Two other students had their hands amputated following injuries from teargas canisters and the doctors union says it has evidence in several x-rays of fatal injuries from live ammunition, says Abdelgalil.

Many of the minor injuries medical staff have treated relate to respiratory problems or asthma attacks brought on by the use of tear gas, says the SDU UK president.

No medical teams are operating on the ground in the vicinity of the demonstrations, says Abdelgalil, over fears that they could be targeted by security forces. Furthermore, members of the security forces are visiting hospitals and picking up patients for detention.

‘I saw a man shot before my very eyes’

Several sources said Khartoum was quiet on Wednesday with a heavy deployment of security forces. However, protests earlier this week were met with a swift response by the authorities.

“It was right in front of my eyes, I saw a guy falling, I don’t know how to describe it, it was very terrifying and they are using whatever force they have,” says a 23-year-old female protester in response to questions about the use of live ammunition during demonstrations on Monday.

“They will do whatever they want, they have no limits,” says the demonstrator, who wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons.

She described how the response by security forces was particularly swift and forceful following a speech by President Omar al-Bashir addressing the protests.

The demonstrations over the past two weeks were mainly focused on living standards and the price of bread, according to the protester, but have now morphed into a more general anger directed at Bashir’s government.

“We’ve had enough of this regime and it’s not about bread or medicine or whatever, we are talking about real changes,” she says.

Demonstrations in recent days have attracted a large cross-section of society with men, women, students and older citizens all participating, according to the protester who RFI spoke to by telephone from Khartoum.

The mood has changed somewhat though and the number of arrests has increased dramatically with members of the security forces “stopping people randomly in the street”.

"The use of live ammunition is very clearly established," says Jehanne Henry, the Africa team leader at Human Rights Watch, a US-based non-governmental organisation.

Opposition reaction

The political opposition to Bashir’s government is calling for the “end of the regime” and the creation of an interim government, says Mariam al-Mahdi, a member of the opposition Umma party and daughter of Sadiq al-Mahdi, the country’s last democratically elected prime minister.

Mahdi said various movements including the National Consensus Forces, Sudan Call and Association of Sudanese Professionals have formed a common front for a possible political transition to avoid “bloody confrontation and chaos”.

The National Consensus Forces brings together a number of political parties opposing Bashir’s National Congress Party. The Sudan Call is another opposition alliance grouping which includes both political and armed opposition. While the Association of Sudanese Professionals is an umbrella coalition of trade unions.

The groups are putting together a “detailed political accord” to plan for the future of the country after Bashir leaves power, Mahdi told RFI in a telephone interview.

“We’re planning to continue our objections and demands in a more organised way and shifting from the spontaneous demonstrations,” she says. Opposition figures are also urging Bashir supporters to jump ship and “take the right position of siding with the people of Sudan, not the tyrant and dictator”.

Press crackdown

Media reports on events in Sudan have been further complicated by the targeting and detention of a number of journalists in the country.

The press freedom NGO Reporters Without Borders says 21 journalists have been arrested by the authorities since 9 December. The French press watchdog says Sudanese intelligence services have also targeted newspapers with 10 publications stopped from printing or action to prevent distribution.

“This new crackdown on Sudanese media and journalists is particularly alarming because of its scale and the ruthless determination of the authorities to prevent any information about the ongoing demonstrations from being disseminated,” said Arnaud Froger, head of the Africa desk at Reporters Without Borders.

The authorities intended to send a message to journalists who attempted to cover the protests and demonstrations, according to Froger.

“The secret services are not only acting as 'editorial police' - imposing arbitrary red lines and off limit topics for journalists and media - they are arresting any journalists and media who still dare covering the protest,” he said.

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