Security forces have fired tear gas at protesters in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum as thousands took to the streets to protest against a military coup that has plunged the country into grinding deadlock.
The demonstrations on Thursday in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan are the latest in a series of protests since the military on October 25 overthrew the civilian-led government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
Security forces used tear gas to disperse those marching in a main Khartoum street leading to the fortified presidential palace, according to the pro-democracy movement. Online videos show white smoke – apparently from tear gas – as protesters try to take cover and others hurl stones at the troops.
Protesters chanted: “With all our power, we are heading to the palace” as they converged on the city centre, witnesses said.
The military takeover has upended Sudan’s transition to democratic rule after three decades of repression and international isolation under former President Omar al-Bashir. The North African nation has been on a fragile path to democracy since a popular uprising forced the military to remove al-Bashir in April 2019.
Demonstrators, mostly young people, marched in different locations in Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman, footage circulated online showed. There were also protests in the restive western region of Darfur.
The protesters demanded the removal of generals from power and the establishment of a fully civilian government to lead the transition.
The police said an officer was killed while providing security to the protest close to the presidential palace. The statement did not say how Colonel Ali Hamad was killed.
Local media reported that he was stabbed to death.
Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Call said the circumstances of the officer’s death was not clear yet.
“The statement that was issued by the police department was only an announcement of his death and [offered] condolences to his family,” Vall said, speaking from Khartoum.
“The only detail they mentioned was that he was doing his duties in protecting the protesters.”
Some of Hamad’s colleagues, Vall went on, said that he was killed near the presidential palace in confrontations with the protesters while police and security forces tried to push them back, and that he was stabbed twice by two different knives.
“The protesters have reiterated that they are peaceful, that they never carry any weapons,” Vall said. “The incident today is dangerous because the military might try to accuse the protesters of being violent or might say that there are elements within the protesters’ [ranks] who would like to turn this into a bloody confrontation.”
More than 60 people have been killed, and hundreds of others injured in the near-daily protests since the coup.
UN push to facilitate talks
The United Nations has repeatedly urged authorities to cease their crackdown on protesters and hold accountable those responsible for killings in previous rounds of protests.
The UN mission in Sudan began separate consultations earlier this week with Sudanese groups, to try to bridge the widening gap between the military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the pro-democracy movement.
The latest UN push received a mixed response from Sudanese factions.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, an independent trade union confederation which has been instrumental in organising the protests, said it completely rejected the UN-facilitated talks.
The mainstream faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change, the leading civilian pro-democracy group, said it will “discuss” the invitation internally and announce its vision.
Spokesman Wagdy Saleh said the FFC rejected “any partnership” with the military.
Protesters have also rejected the UN talks.
“We don’t accept this initiative at all,” 62-year-old protester Awad Saleh said. “It’s not clear what points it constitutes and so for us it is deficient.”
However, the ruling Sovereign Council – formed by al-Burhan following the coup with himself as chairman – welcomed the talks.
Hamdok, who was the civilian face of Sudan’s transitional government in the past two years, resigned earlier this month, citing failure to reach a compromise between the generals and the pro-democracy movement. After weeks of house arrest, he was reinstated in November in a deal with the military that angered the pro-democracy movement.
In his resignation speech, Hamdok warned that Sudan was now at a “dangerous crossroads threatening its very survival”.
The movement insists that a fully civilian government lead the transition, a demand rejected by the generals who say power will be handed over only to an elected government. Elections are planned in July 2023, in line with a 2019 constitutional document governing the transition period.
The coup came a few weeks before the military should have handed over the leadership of the ruling sovereign council to civilians, according to the constitutional document.