Sudanese forces killed seven anti-coup protesters Monday in one of the deadliest days of recent rallies against a military takeover, medics said, as security chiefs vowed to hold to account those they accused of causing "chaos."
The latest violence comes ahead of a visit by U.S. diplomats, as Washington seeks to broker an end to the monthslong crisis in the northeast African nation.
The deaths Monday bring to 71 the number of protesters killed since the army's October 25 takeover led by General Abdel-Fattah Burhan.
The military power grab triggered international condemnation and derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule following the April 2019 ouster of longtime autocratic president Omar al-Bashir.
On Monday, three protesters "were killed by live bullets" by "militias of the putschist military council," anti-coup medics said on the Facebook page of Khartoum state's health ministry.
Later, four more demonstrators were killed "during the massacre by the coup authorities who were seeking to disperse the protests," according to the independent Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.
Medics also counted multiple wounds by "live rounds."
Burhan on Monday held an emergency meeting with security chiefs and agreed to form a counterterrorism force "to confront possible threats," according to a statement by Sudan's ruling Sovereign Council.
The statement said the officials blamed the "chaos" on protesters who "deviated from legitimate peaceful demonstration" and vowed to hold to account those involved in "violations" during protests.
Authorities have repeatedly denied using live ammunition in confronting demonstrators and insist scores of security personnel have been wounded during protests.
On Thursday, Sudanese authorities said protesters stabbed to death a police general, the first fatality among security forces.
Protesters — sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands — have regularly taken to the streets despite the security clampdown and periodic cuts to communications since the coup.
On Monday, security officers in Khartoum deployed in large numbers, firing volleys of tear gas at protesters heading toward the presidential palace, an AFP correspondent said.
Several people appeared to have difficulty breathing, and others bled from wounds caused by tear gas canisters, the correspondent said.
Sawsan Salah, from the capital's twin city of Omdurman, said protesters burned car tires and carried photos of people killed during other demonstrations since the coup.
In Wad Madani, "around 2,000 people took to the streets as they called for civilian rule," said Emad Mohammed, a witness there.
In North Khartoum, thousands of protesters demanded that troops return to their barracks and chanted in favor of civilian rule, witnesses said.
U.S. officials to visit
U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee are expected in Sudan in coming days.
Washington's push comes after the United Nations said last week it would launch talks involving political, military and social actors to help resolve the crisis.
On Monday, the U.S. diplomats were expected to meet in Saudi Arabia with the Friends of Sudan, a group calling for the restoration of the country's transitional government.
The meeting aims to "marshal international support" for the U.N. mission to "facilitate a renewed civilian-led transition to democracy" in Sudan, the U.S. State Department said.
The diplomats then travel to Khartoum for meetings with pro-democracy activists, civic groups, and military and political leaders.
"Their message will be clear: the United States is committed to freedom, peace, and justice for the Sudanese people," the State Department said.
The mainstream civilian faction of the Forces of Freedom and Change, the leading civilian pro-democracy group, has said it will accept the U.N. offer for talks if it revives the transition to civilian rule.
Proposed talks have been welcomed by the ruling Sovereign Council, which Burhan restaffed following the coup with himself as chairman.
Burhan has insisted that the military takeover "was not a coup" but only meant to "rectify" the course of the transition after al-Bashir's deposal.
Earlier this month, Sudan's civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok resigned, saying the country was now at a "dangerous crossroads threatening its very survival."