NAIROBI — A long-feared confrontation between security forces and protesters occupying part of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, erupted on Monday, as heavy gunfire was heard around the city and a doctors’ group affiliated with the protest said at least 30 were killed.

A broad swath of Sudanese society has staged a sit-in in Khartoum since April 6, just days before the military toppled President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who had led the country for 30 years. Tens of thousands of protesters had remained in place since his ouster to demand civilian control over the transitional period in this North African country of 40 million people.

The transitional military council, or TMC, has pushed back on those demands, insisting on retaining ultimate authority during an interim period it says will eventually lead to a civilian-led government.

The crackdown Monday, carried out by state paramilitary troops, appeared to have at least dispersed the sit-in if not cleared it entirely, with many of its tents and stages burned in the process. The protesters have been peaceful since occupying the roads outside the headquarters of Sudan’s military two months ago.

Reports from witnesses and live television feeds showed scenes of bloodshed, and the doctors’ group said hospitals had taken in hundreds of wounded people.

“The protesters holding a sit-in in front of the army general command are facing a massacre in a treacherous attempt to disperse the protest,” the main group organizing the protests said in a statement. “We call for sweeping civil disobedience to topple the treacherous and killer military council and finalize our revolution.”

In June 3 social videos, Sudanese civilians were seen running through the streets, heads down, as security forces opened fire on a sit-in camp in the capital. (User Generated Content via Sudan Congress Party)

The TMC, led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has spent the past weeks visiting the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who have made major financial contributions to shore up Sudan’s economy during the transition. 

Shams al-Deen al-Kabashi, spokesman for the council, acknowledged the operation in televised remarks but said the military was targeting just one area of the protest, nicknamed “Colombia” by protesters because of prolific drug use that occurs there. Kabashi claimed that clashes at the main sit-in site were a result of protesters from “Colombia” seeking refuge there.

The “Colombia” area is under a bridge spanning the Nile right near the sit-in. Videos posted on social media showed paramilitary troops firing on protesters in numerous spots around Khartoum, from the area around the sit-in to neighborhoods across the Nile.

Burhan and his deputy, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly referred to by the name Hemedti, were instrumental during Bashir’s years in recruiting young Sudanese fighters to reinforce a Saudi- and UAE-driven military offensive in Yemen.

Hemedti commands a state security arm called the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, that is infamous for its role in an alleged genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region over a decade ago. The RSF was widely reported to be the one carrying out Monday’s crackdown in Khartoum.

Western governments were quick to condemn the violence, though they offered little in the way of concrete pushback.

“Responsibility falls on the TMC,” the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum wrote on Twitter. “The TMC cannot responsibly lead the people of Sudan.”

“No excuse for any such attack,” wrote Irfan Siddiq, Britain’s ambassador. “This. Must. Stop. Now.”