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UPDATE 4-Sudan opposition says around 20 killed during defence ministry sit-in

Updated: 09-04-2019 20:32 IST
UPDATE 4-Sudan opposition says around 20 killed during defence ministry sit-in

Around 20 people have been killed and dozens wounded in dawn attacks on a sit-in outside Sudan's defence ministry by protesters calling for President Omar al-Bashir to step down, the head of the main opposition party said on Tuesday. Veteran leader Sadiq al-Mahdi also called in a statement for "a select military command" to negotiate a transition towards democracy.

His comments came as several thousand protesters continued for a fourth day a sit-in outside the compound in central Khartoum housing the defence ministry, Bashir's residence and the country's security headquarters. Early on Tuesday, Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service tried twice to disperse the protesters, breaking into the area using pickup trucks, witnesses said.

Security forces also tried to disperse the sit-in early on Monday, but witnesses and activists said soldiers moved to protect the protesters. Opposition doctors put the death toll since the sit-in began at 21, including five soldiers, with more than 150 injured. The interior ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Since Dec. 19, Sudan has been rocked by persistent protests sparked by the government's attempt to raise the price of bread, and by fuel and cash shortages. The demonstrations have developed into the most sustained challenge to Bashir's rule since he took power three decades ago. The protests escalated on Saturday, when activists, trying to persuade the country's armed forces to side with them, marched towards the defence ministry compound.

On Monday, the interior ministry said 39 people, including three security forces personnel, had died since protests began on Dec. 19. Activists put the death toll at more than 60. Early on Tuesday, Reuters witnessed dozens of young men blocking Nile Street, a main road in the capital where ministries are located. The protesters used scrap metal barriers to block traffic on the street, which is located around one kilometre away from the presidential palace.

Army soldiers on armoured vehicles were guarding the presidential palace but not moving against demonstrators, a Reuters witness said. A senior leader of the Sudanese Professionals' Association, the main anti-government protest organiser, called on Tuesday for demonstrators to continue their sit-in.

In remarks to Reuters, Omar Saleh Sennar also said his group wanted a civilian transitional government and would only negotiate with the army, not with Bashir's administration. (Additional reporting by Cairo bureau Editing by Giles Elgood)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)