KHARTOUM - Sudan's pro-democracy leaders vowed Thursday to press their campaign of civil disobedience until the ruling military council is ousted and killers of protesters are brought to justice, but an overwhelming presence of security forces across the capital, Khartoum, appeared to thwart new demonstrations.
The African Union, meanwhile, suspended Sudan from all AU activities “with immediate effect” over the deadly military crackdown on protesters that left 108 killed this week. The suspension, it said, would last until Sudan's military hands over power to a transitional civilian authority.
The Sudan Doctors' Central Committee, one of the protest groups, reported Wednesday that troops were seen pulling 40 bodies of the victims, slain by the security forces, from the Nile River in Khartoum and taking them away.
The committee said it was not known where they were taken. It also said more than 500 protesters have been wounded in the crackdown.
Meanwhile, Sudan's military-controlled health ministry disputed the death toll of 108 killed in the crackdown. The ministry's undersecretary, Soliman Abdel Gaber, issued a statement insisting that only 46 people died in this week's violence.
Since Monday's violent dispersal of the protest sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, violent clashes have erupted in other parts of Sudan. The protest leaders said there were attacks, including killings and rape, in 13 cities and towns this week perpetrated by security forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella of union groups that has been behind months of rallies that forced the military to oust longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April, urged people to block main roads and bridges to “paralyze public life” across the country in retaliation for the military's crackdown.
“Our success depends on our full adherence to peaceful protests, no matter how hard the criminal militias seek to drag us into violence,” the association said in a Facebook statement Thursday.
Hundreds of armored vehicles of the paramilitary RSF, which grew out of the Janjaweed militias used by al-Bashir's government to suppress the Darfur insurgency in the 2000s, a campaign that prompted charges of genocide against its perpetrators, were seen across the capital. Barricades erected earlier this week by protesters near the site of the dispersed sit-in were removed and roads were opened. Most stores were closed and few people were seen on Khartoum streets.
Sudan's ruling general Abdel Fattah Burhan had called for a resumption of negotiations with the protest leaders, which they promptly rejected, saying the generals cannot be serious about talks while troops keep killing protesters.
The protesters said that instead, they would continue their demonstrations and strikes seeking to pressure the military into handing over power to a civilian authority.
Amal al-Zein, an activist and a leader of Sudan's Communist Party, said she believes only a division within the military could end the standoff — if young officers, for example, overthrow their superiors in the ruling military council.
“All members of the military council belong to the old regime, and that is why we are betting now on lower-rank officers,” she said. “We are hoping patriotic policemen and military officers will act to protect the Sudanese people.”
Before Monday's crackdown began, the military and protest leaders had for weeks negotiated the makeup of a transitional council meant to run the country until elections. The protesters demanded civilians dominate the council, which the generals resisted.
After the crackdown, the military suspended the talks and canceled all agreed-on points. It also announced the military would form a government and hold elections within seven to nine months.
But the head of the military council, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, on Wednesday abruptly announced the generals were prepared to resume negotiations — an offer the protesters immediately turned down.
In Moscow, a top diplomat said Russia, which has largely stayed on the sidelines of the crisis in Sudan, opposes “any foreign intervention” and believes a compromise is needed.
FILE - An injured man is carried on a stretcher during protests in Khartoum, Sudan, June 3, 2019, in this image taken from a video obtained from social media.
Mikhail Bogdanov, chief of the foreign ministry's Middle East desk, told local news agencies that Russian diplomats are in touch with all political players in Sudan, including the opposition. Bogdanov visited Khartoum earlier this year.
From Ethiopia, the African Union's Peace and Security Council posted on Twitter that Sudan's suspension will remain in effect until “the effective establishment” of a civilian-led transitional authority, “as the only way to allow the Sudan to exit from the current crisis.”
The decision came during an AU meeting on the Sudanese crisis. The AU's Peace and Security Council is in charge of enforcing union decisions, somewhat similar to the U.N. Security Council.
The chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Fake Mahamat, earlier this week strongly condemned the violence in Sudan and urged the country's ruling military council “to protect the civilians from further harm.”