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Gunfire echoes in Khartoum as protest crackdown leaves 60 dead

Sudanese security forces were out in force in Khartoum after the bloody dispersal of a weeks-long sit-in outside army headquarters

Khartoum, Sudan | AFP |  Gunfire crackled in Sudan’s capital Wednesday as tensions remained high after a two-day crackdown that doctors close to the country’s protest movement said had left at least 60 people dead.

Despite mounting international concern at what demonstrators called a  “bloody massacre”, a bid at the UN Security Council to condemn the killings was blocked by China with support from Russia.

Hospitals in Khartoum said they were struggling to cope with the number of wounded after security forces launched a deadly raid on Monday on a weeks-long sit-in outside army headquarters.

“The situation is very difficult. Most of the hospitals have taken in more casualties than they have capacity for,” a doctor who works at two hospitals in the city told AFP.

“There’s a shortage of medical staff, a shortage of blood, and it’s difficult to do surgery because some operations can only be done in certain hospitals,” said the doctor, who asked not to be named.

“Among the wounded there are still people in a serious condition and I expect the number of deaths to rise.”

Sudan’s military ousted veteran president Omar al-Bashir in April after months of protests against his authoritarian rule and had agreed a three-year transition period to a civilian administration.

But army ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said following the crackdown that the plan had been ditched and an election would take place within nine months — a plan rejected by demonstrators.

Protest leaders called on their supporters to take part in “total civil disobedience” to topple the ruling military council.

– Gunfire and barricades –

On Wednesday, hundreds of residents of the north Khartoum blocked off streets with barricades made from stones, and waited by them in silence, a witness told AFP.

In the distance gunfire was heard.

In the early morning, sporadic shooting was heard in the Khartoum 2 neighbourhood, an area where there are several embassies, an AFP reporter said.

The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, which is linked to the protesters, said the death toll had jumped to 60 with hundreds more wounded.

An eight-year-old child was among the dead, it added.

The committee said it held “the militias of the (military) council… responsible for this massacre.”

The Rapid Support Forces, paramilitaries with origins in the 16-year-old war in the western region of Darfur, are thought to have been largely behind the crackdown.

Their commander is deputy chairman on the ruling military council.

– Prayers for ‘martyrs’ –

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded protests against Bashir, urged the global community “to isolate and stop dealing with the so-called military council”.

It also called for an independent investigation into the killings under international supervision.

The Transitional Military Council said it “regrets” the events, calling it a “clean-up operation” that went wrong.

The Sudanese Doctors Union accused security forces of attacks on hospitals and staff across the country, and alleged some women had been raped in an area of the capital without giving details of how the group had learned of the assaults.

A push for the UN Security Council to condemn the killing of civilians and call on the military and protesters to work together was blocked by China, which was backed by Russia, during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday.

Eight European countries — Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, The Netherlands and Sweden — instead issued their own joint statement criticising “the violent attacks in Sudan by Sudanese security services against civilians”.

The United States, Britain and Norway earlier issued a joint statement condemning the military’s election plan.

Top US envoy David Hale, under secretary of state for political affairs, underlined the importance of a transition to a civilian-led government in a phone call with the Saudi deputy defence minister, Khalid bin Salman, the US Department of State said.

African and Western governments have been strongly supportive of the protesters but Arab governments, led by Saudi Arabia, have backed the military rulers.

Moussa Faki, head of the African Union Commission, also backed “an immediate and transparent investigation”.

Despite the heavy security presence, worshippers in some areas of the capital still came out to mark the Eid al-Fitr festival following a call by protest leaders to “pray for the martyrs”.

Flights into Khartoum were disrupted as airlines monitored developments on the ground.

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