Ten people were shot dead and 11 wounded in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, during pro-democracy demonstrations on Friday, some of the worst violence since protesters took to the streets in December, local medics said.
At least 200 demonstrators were arrested after gunmen opened fire on a crowd protesting against the detention of pro-democracy leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, as well as youths, during clashes in central Khartoum, according to witnesses.
In response, the protests turned violent and opposition activists called for mass rallies on Saturday to denounce the “rigged election” and arrest of Mahdi and others.
“Several medics, including a doctor, were wounded by bullets and detained by security forces,” an official at the Islamic Hospital, Mohammed Nasser Abu Youssef, told Reuters.
He said the 10 people were killed by bullets fired by gunmen who blocked the way to a protest in Wad Madani in central Khartoum, using a gun and a baton.
The protesters had assembled to demand an end to a campaign against Mahdi that began when he challenged President Omar al-Bashir for the presidency in July 2015.
“Some armed men attacked demonstrators with batons and pistols in Wad Madani. Seven protesters were killed and 11 wounded,” a medic at the scene, also identified as Abu Youssef, told Reuters.
Police said 10 people were killed in the attack, while witnesses said the protesters number of about 300 has been revised down from 5,000 to 500.
“Ten people were killed including five martyrs and 11 injured. More than 200 people were arrested including an army general who had stormed the protesters,” the interior ministry said in a statement on Twitter.
Authorities suspended all elections on Friday after opposition parties challenged a decree that granted Bashir sweeping powers and barred any new candidates from standing in parliamentary and presidential elections in June.
Sudan’s government has had strained relations with the United States, which has called on Bashir to step down.
The powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) arrested senior opposition leaders including Mahdi in December, at the height of anti-government protests.
In a further move to curb any further reform, the government imposed a nighttime curfew on Wednesday night.
Sudan’s large and largely unorganised opposition parties have so far failed to harness the limited support it has enjoyed despite being banned for several decades.
President Bashir took power in a 1989 military coup. Western donors remain concerned about the country’s human rights record and instability in oil-rich South Sudan.
Rights groups have accused Sudan of using force against demonstrations this year. There were also occasional reports of violence against protesters during the December protests.
It was not immediately clear why security forces had fired on a crowd on Friday in a densely populated neighbourhood of the capital.
“I was at home when I heard people shouting ‘God is greatest’ and gunfire in the streets. I couldn’t understand who it was targeting,” said Samira Mohamed, a housewife who lives in a neighbouring building.