The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Sudan’s capital on lockdown as protesters recall violence that killed at least 60

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. (Video: User Generated Content via Sudan Congress Party)

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Paramilitary troops surrounded the sit-in protest site that had been the heart of a pro-democracy uprising in Sudan’s capital Tuesday, a day after an explosion of violence thrust the country’s political future into even greater turmoil.

The paramilitary group, known as the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, patrolled Khartoum’s streets, putting the city on lockdown and setting up dozens of checkpoints. The RSF dismantled the sit-in site Monday in an attack that killed at least 35, according to Sudan Doctors Syndicate, a professional group associated with the protests.

The syndicate later said that dozens more were killed in subsequent violence, including in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman and in Sudan’s White Nile state, raising the total to 60 dead by Wednesday with hundreds of injured.

The United States, which lists Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, issued forceful denunciations of the violence Tuesday. John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, called the attack “abhorrent,” but neither he nor Tibor Nagy, the assistant secretary of state for Africa, said they would stop speaking with the transitional military council.

“This was a brutal and coordinated attack, led by the Rapid Support Forces militia, that mirrors some of the worst offenses of the Bashir regime,” Nagy said, referring to former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was ousted in April.

Pockets of defiant protesters gathered at mosques Tuesday, turning their prayers for the Eid al-Fitr holiday into calls for sustained civil disobedience, according to local news agencies. Sporadic gunfire could still be heard throughout Khartoum and its suburbs. 

Across the city, the wounded recuperated in homes and hospitals, recounting the suddenness of Monday’s attack and the fragility of their nonviolent movement in the face of a well-armed adversary.

Before the attack began at dawn, Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed and friends had built brick barricades to protect the sit-in site, where pro-democracy protesters have been camping out for almost two months. The flimsy defense was no match for the dozens of RSF soldiers that came in, torching tents, stages and anything else they could find. 

“First they just fired into the air to scare us,” said Ahmed, an engineer by training. “Then they started firing at the people.”

Ahmed said he had taken part in protests almost every day since they began in December, first calling for the overthrow of Bashir, who ruled this North African country for 30 years, and then demanding a civilian-led government from a military council reluctant to relinquish control. 

Despite being frustrated with the military, Ahmed said he ran toward its headquarters in search of safety Monday because it wasn’t military men chasing him but the RSF, infamous for carrying out atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur region.

But he found RSF soldiers there, too, and became trapped.

“Then the beatings started,” he recalled from a bed in a hospital in a nearby neighborhood. He had a big gash on the back of his head, deep-purple bruises on his arms and, thanks to a quick surgery, four stitches in one of his fingers. “They whipped us. They kicked us.”

The presence of RSF soldiers around the city has made work difficult for doctors, who are overwhelmed with patients. A surgeon, rushing toward an operating room, said none of his assistants could make it to the hospital from elsewhere in the city. “We are just managing, but we don’t know how,” he said. 

In a televised announcement late Monday, the leader of the military council, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said that all negotiations with the protest movement were off and that he would fast-track the transition period to conduct presidential elections in no more than nine months. Burhan also said Monday’s violence would be investigated but didn’t say by whom. He contended that protest leaders were partly to blame.

The U.N. Security Council was set to discuss the situation in Sudan on Tuesday in a closed-door session requested by Britain and Germany.

The United States has taken a back seat in engaging the military council, while the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have all welcomed its top generals over the past few weeks. 

Bearak reported from Nairobi.

Talks have stalled, and divisions are growing. Is Sudan’s post-Bashir honeymoon over?

Women of Sudan — ‘suppressed by any means’ — are protesting for equal rights in the post-Bashir era

Omar al-Bashir exploited Sudan’s ethnic division for decades. Now Sudan is united against him.

Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world

Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign news