Sudan security forces fire tear gas, deploy to block anti-coup rallies

Thousands demonstrate in demand for civilian rule following military takeover and in memory of ‘martyrs’ killed in previous protests

Sudanese demonstrators rally in the al-Daim neighborhood in the capital Khartoum on January 2, 2022, amid calls for pro-democracy rallies in 'memory of the martyrs' killed in recent protests. (AFP)
Sudanese demonstrators rally in the al-Daim neighborhood in the capital Khartoum on January 2, 2022, amid calls for pro-democracy rallies in 'memory of the martyrs' killed in recent protests. (AFP)

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudanese security forces deployed in large numbers Sunday, setting up roadblocks in the capital Khartoum amid calls for pro-democracy rallies in “memory of the martyrs” killed in recent protests.

Forces were later seen firing tear gas canisters at a thousands-strong rally outside the presidential palace in Khartoum demanding civilian rule.

Communications including internet and phone lines were severely restricted, as armed officers used shipping containers to block key bridges across the Nile river connecting Khartoum to its suburbs.

Web monitoring group NetBlocks said mobile internet services had been cut from mid-morning ahead of the planned protests, the first of the year.

Activists use the internet for organizing demonstrations and broadcasting live footage of the rallies.

Sudan, with a long history of military coups, has undergone a fragile journey toward civilian rule since the 2019 ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir following mass popular protests.

But the country has been plunged into turmoil since military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan — de facto leader since the ouster of Bashir — launched a coup on October 25 and detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

Hamdok was reinstated on November 21, but mass protests have continued as demonstrators distrust veteran general Burhan and his promises of seeking to guide the country toward full democracy.

53 killed since coup

Activists have kept up a more than two-month-long campaign of street demonstrations against the army’s takeover, despite a crackdown that has seen at least 53 people killed and hundreds injured in protest-related violence, according to the pro-democracy Doctors’ Committee group.

The protesters demand that soldiers “go back to the barracks” and are calling for a transition to civilian rule.

The rallies have been repeatedly broken up by security forces firing rounds of tear gas, as well as charges by police wielding batons and shooting bullets into the air.

On Thursday, five people were shot dead in Khartoum when security forces cracked down on mass rallies that saw tens of thousands take to the streets chanting “no to military rule.”

Sudan’s top army general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan holds a press conference at the General Command of the Armed Forces in Khartoum on October 26, 2021. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP)

Burhan denies the takeover was a coup, and on Friday, a close adviser warned that “the demonstrations are only a waste of energy and time” which will not produce “any political solution.”

On Sunday, soldiers in armored vehicles mounted with heavy machine guns were posted at strategic road crossings, an AFP reporter said.

Activists say 2022 will be “the year of the continuation of the resistance” in posts on social media.

They demand justice for the dozens killed since the coup as well as for the more than 250 who died during the mass protests that began in 2019 and paved the way for the toppling of Bashir.

Activists have condemned sexual attacks during December 19 protests, in which the UN said at least 13 women and girls were victims of rape or gang rape.

The European Union and the United States issued a joint statement condemning the use of sexual violence “as a weapon to drive women away from demonstrations and silence their voices.”

Over 14 million people, one in three Sudanese, will need humanitarian aid next year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the highest level for a decade.

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