Condemning a "bloody massacre" in which at least 35 peaceful protesters were killed at a sit-in in the Sudanese capitol of Khartoum, pro-democracy leaders urged "total civil disobedience" on Monday to rise up against the military council currently running the country.
Witnesses said the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary force headed by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) which overthrew former President Omar al-Bashir in April, was behind the tear gas and live ammunition attack which killed dozens of people assembled outside a military complex. At least one child was among those killed and hundreds of people were reportedly wounded.
"The military generals and their militia are counting on the silence of the international community in its attempt to destroy the majority of Sudanese who have been protesting peacefully for a civilian-led government and democracy." —Khalid Mustafa Medani, McGill University
Eyewitnesses on Monday reported that the total death toll from the protest attack could be higher than reported, as forces allegedly were seen throwing demonstrators' bodies into the Nile River.
Khalid Mustafa Medani, chair of the African Studies Program at McGill University, called the attack "the worst massacre since the beginning of Sudan’s peaceful popular uprising" and urged the international community to speak out against the TMC or risk further widespread violence.
"The military generals and their militia are counting on the silence of the international community in its attempt to destroy the majority of Sudanese who have been protesting peacefully for a civilian-led government and democracy," said Medani in a statement.
"The utilization of the [RSF] to put down the uprising by brute force will lead to, as in Darfur, mass killings and instability at the very heart of the capital city in ways that will destabilize Sudan as well as the region," he added.
The Sudanese Professionals' Association (SPA), which began protests against the repressive government last December and has continued to call for democratic reforms following al-Bashir's ouster, blamed the military government for the attacks.
"This is a critical point in our revolution," Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the SPA, said in a statement. "The military council has chosen escalation and confrontation…Now the situation is us or them; there is no other way."
Al-Mustafa and the SPA called on pro-democracy protesters to "paralyze public life" and hold night-time marches following the protest attack.
Sudan protesters: ‘We call for a campaign of comprehensive civil disobedience to bring down the treacherous, murderous military council and complete our revolution.‘ https://t.co/4Wm2p8biPa via @MiddleEastEye
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After the protest attack and a broader crackdown including RSF forces attacking hospitals and blocking victims and doctors from reaching medical centers, TMC leader Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said he was scrapping a previously agreed-upon three-year transition plan, which was aimed at giving opposition parties time to organize campaigns and meant to result in a civilian government. Instead, al-Burhan called for elections in nine months.
Democratic reformers, led by the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) opposition alliance, rejected al-Burhan's statement and condemned the TMC's crackdown.
"What happened, killing protesters, wounding and humiliation, was a systematic and planned matter to impose repression on the Sudanese people," DFCF leader Madani Abbas Madani said.
British ambassador to Sudan Irfan Siddiq said the impediments placed in the way of people trying to access medical care "defy belief."
"Those injured in today's horrific attacks need unhindered access to medical treatment," Siddiq said Monday on Twitter. "Medical centers must be a safe place."
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation into the massacre, while U.N. human rights commissioner Michele Bachelet called the attack at the sit-in and in nearby hospitals "extremely alarming."
"I utterly deplore the apparent use of excessive force in the protest camps," Bachelet said. "I urge the security forces to immediately halt such attacks, and to ensure safe, unimpeded access to medical care for all."
"Those exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression must be protected, not targeted or detained," she added.