KHARTOUM: Thousands of Sudanese pro-democracy protesters rallied Sunday outside the presidential palace in Khartoum, braving tear gas, a mass deployment of armed soldiers and a telecommunications blackout.
They demonstrated against an October 25 coup launched by military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, shouting “power to the people” and demanding a return of the “military to the barracks.”
As with previous demonstrations, which have become regular since the coup, the authorities have erected roadblocks, with shipping containers blocking Nile River bridges between the capital and outlying areas.
Internet and cell phones have not worked since the morning and security forces were perched on armored vehicles with heavy machine guns watching passers-by.
But thousands of Sudanese nonetheless came out to demonstrate “in memory of the martyrs,” with at least 54 protesters killed in street violence since the coup, according to medical sources.
Web monitoring group NetBlocks said mobile Internet services were 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 Burhan — Sudan’s de facto leader following the ouster of Bashir — launched his coup 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.
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 54 people killed and hundreds injured, according to the pro-democracy Doctors’ Committee group.
The rallies have been repeatedly broken up by security forces firing rounds of tear gas, as well as charges by police wielding batons.
On Thursday, six 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.”
Burhan insists the military’s move “was not a coup” but a push to “rectify the course of the transition.” On Friday a close adviser warned that “the demonstrations are only a waste of energy and time” which will not produce “any political solution.”
Activists say 2022 will be “the year of the continuation of the resistance” in posts on social media.
They demand justice for those killed since the coup as well as 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.