At least five protesters, including four high school students, have been shot dead after security forces broke up a student protest in the Sudanese city of El-Obeid, opposition groups have said.
The killings on Monday came a day before protest leaders and ruling generals are set to hold new talks on Sudan‘s transition following the removal of former leader, Omar al-Bashir.
Gunfire rang out as teenagers rallied against fuel and bread shortages in the capital of North Kordofan state, residents said, at a time of heightened tensions between opposition campaigners and military rulers that took power following Bashir’s removal.
A key protest group, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), said “live ammunition” had been used against a “rally of school students” in the central town of El-Obeid.
In a post on its Facebook page, it urged “all citizens and medics” to head to hospitals treating the wounded.
“We call on our people to take to the streets … to denounce the Al-Obeid massacre, to demand the perpetrators be brought to justice,” said the SPA, which had launched the initial protests.
Authorities announced a nighttime curfew in four Sudanese towns following the incident. There was no immediate statement from the ruling military council.
The acting governor of North Kordofan, Mohamed Khidr Mohamed Hamid, told Al-Arabiya TV there had been a “slight friction” between protesters and security forces. He said he could not confirm who opened fire and a committee would investigate.
Videos circulating on social media purported to show students protesting outside El-Obeid’s main hospital against the killings and injuries.
At least 5 were killed, including 4 school children & 1 medic, after #Hemeti‘s notorious paramilitary #RSF Janjaweed militia opened fire on a protest in El-Obeid, North Kordofan state, #Sudan‘s 🇸🇩 opposition-linked doctors’ committee @Sd_Doctors https://t.co/Ksx4NLJwxV
— Saad (@SaadAbedine) July 29, 2019
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from neighbouring Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, said students took to the streets demanding justice and better living conditions shortly before the shooting took place.
“The opposition called for nationwide protests to condemn the violence,” Morgan said. “They say they blame the ruling military council for the death of the protesters.”
Morgan said the protesters and opposition have also demanded that the police protect them.
“They say the military council and the police should not be attacking protesters as they voice their anger and demand a civilian government,” she said.
According to her, a transition agreement between the military and the civilian opposition has not yet been signed.
Sudan’s state news agency SUNA said authorities in North Kordofan closed all schools across the state until further notice and described the events as “regrettable”.
El-Obeid residents said a funeral would be held on Tuesday for those killed.
In Khartoum, a witness said dozens of protesters took to the streets in several neighbourhoods after hearing about the El-Obeid violence, Reuters News Agency reported.
Demonstrations in Khartoum against the killing of protesters in El Obeid, western #Sudan, where snipers shot at least 5 during demonstrations against power outages #SudanUprising #KeepEyesOnSudan #السودان #تسقط_بس https://t.co/xJghRB9Bz0
— Isma’il Kushkush (@ikushkush) July 29, 2019
Opposition activists, unions and professional groups launched nationwide protests against mounting economic hardships and long-term leader al-Bashir in December last year.
The military removed al-Bashir in April as the protests and shortages persisted. But activists kept up their demonstrations, pressing for the military to speed up the move to civilian rule and calling for justice for people killed during a raid on a sit-in protest in Khartoum in June.
The Forces of Freedom and Change coalition called for Monday’s attackers in El-Obeid to be held accountable and for the ruling military council to immediately agree upon the details of a new transitional authority.
“Forces belonging to the army and Rapid Support (paramilitary force) indiscriminately and violently fired this afternoon at peaceful demonstrations of secondary school students in El-Obeid,” the coalition said in a statement.
“Only a civilian authority is capable of carrying out independent investigations into all crimes,” it added.
Monday’s deaths also sparked calls for talks set for Tuesday to be suspended.
The talks were set to cover issues including the powers of the joint civilian-military ruling body, the deployment of security forces and immunity for generals over protest-related violence, according to protest leaders.
Khartoum has seen angry demonstrations since Saturday, when investigators announced the results of a probe into a deadly crackdown on a protest camp on June 3.
Shortly before dawn on that day, gunmen in military fatigues raided the site of a weeks-long sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, shooting and beating protesters.
Doctors linked to the protest movement said the raid left 127 people dead and scores wounded.
But a joint investigation by prosecutors and the ruling military council found that just 17 people were killed on June 3, with a total of 87 dying between that day and June 10.
The probe identified eight officers involved in the violent crackdown on the protest camp, including three from the feared Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group.
But protest leaders have rejected the findings, saying the inquiry exonerated the military council and gave a far lower death toll than their own figures.
The investigation was “commissioned by the military council, this is challenging its integrity as the military council itself is accused in this case,” said the SPA.
Demonstrators have called for an independent investigation into the raid as the ruling generals insist they did not order the dispersal of the sit-in.