Sudanese security forces have opened fire on massive demonstrations across the country against last week’s military coup, killing at least three protesters and injuring many more.
According to reports on social media and claims by Sudanese pro-democracy organisations, pro-coup security forces have used live ammunition and teargas in several locations in Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman as well as in the city of Nyala.
The three casualties were reported as unarmed demonstrators who had gathered with others outside the country’s parliament building in Omdurman. Gunfire was also reported in Khartoum in the central 40th Street area and around the Manshia bridge over the Nile.
The killings came as hundreds of thousands of Sudanese people took to the streets on Saturday in a huge show of opposition to Monday’s military coup.
Despite a large security presence, protesters in Khartoum and Omdurman marched, in scenes that were repeated around the country, from El-Obeid to Atbara and Port Sudan, calling for a restoration of civilian rule.
All the roads leading to the military headquarters and the presidential palace in Khartoum were being guarded by hundreds of army soldiers and intelligence officials in plain clothes carrying sticks who were stopping people to question them.
The protests came almost a week after the military detained Sudan’s civilian leadership, dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency, prompting a chorus of international condemnation.
Carrying Sudanese flags, protesters in Khartoum chanted, “No, no to military rule” and “We are free revolutionaries and we will continue the road” of democratic transition. Others called on the coup leader, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to be sent to the country’s Kobar prison.
The fatalities, reported by Sudan’s Doctors Committee, took place as marchers approached the parliament building in Omdurman and were met with teargas and bullets.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the committee said: “Militias with the coup are now using live fire on demonstrators in Omdurman and other areas of the rebellious capital,” adding that there had been three deaths and others wounded.
Elsewhere, troops blocking one of the Nile bridges into Khartoum fired in the air to try to disperse crowds gathering there.
The scale of the protests, which came together despite a campaign of arrests and the shutdown of the internet and mobile phone networks, is the most serious challenge to the military’s seizure of power.
As security forces set up checkpoints and blocked bridges in Khartoum, marchers assembled in a number of areas, with some reportedly converging close to the city’s 60th Street, a main thoroughfare that runs parallel to the Blue Nile.
At least one image posted on social media also appeared to show a new barbed wire barrier constructed by security forces blocking one of the city’s main highways.
“We will not be ruled by the military. That is the message we will convey at the protests,” said Tahani Abbas, a Sudanese rights activist. “The military forces are bloody and unjust and we are anticipating what is about to happen on the streets. But we are no longer afraid.”
Mawahib Ali, 33, from the Wad-Nubawai neighbourhood in Omdurman, was planning to march to the country’s parliament building close to the Nile in Omdurman. “This time our job isn’t easy. We don’t want the army any more, so you need to really work hard and insist on people going out, but I am optimistic that we will win,” she explained.
With bridges and roads closed, some marchers said they planned to head to different locations if they could not reach their planned destination.
The marches began as the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, warned that Sudan’s security forces must respect human rights, adding that any violence against peaceful demonstrators was “unacceptable”.
The US continues to stand with “Sudan’s people in their nonviolent struggle for democracy”, he said in a tweet.
The demonstrations came as Burhan announced he would appoint a technocrat prime minister to rule alongside the generals. The scale of the opposition’s “march of millions” will be seen as a key indicator of the military’s grip.
Burhan has insisted that the military’s takeover is “not a coup”, but only meant to “rectify the course of the Sudanese transition”.
However, with many saying they continued to recognise the cabinet of the deposed prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, as the legitimate government, and the US, World Bank and others cutting crucial foreign aid to the economically battered country, the military has struggled to stamp out protests.
On the eve of Saturday’s rallies, a US official said that between 20 and 30 people had died, adding that the protests would be a “real test” of the intentions of Sudan’s military.
Echoing Blinken’s statement, Britain’s special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Robert Fairweather, urged Sudan’s security forces to “respect freedom and right of expression” for protesters. “Peaceful protest is a fundamental democratic right. The security services and their leaders will bear responsibility for any violence towards any protesters,” he tweeted.
Heavily armed security forces tore down protest barricades of tyres and rocks blocking roads, and carried out random searches of people and cars. With authorities restricting internet and phone signals, protesters were handing out flyers calling for a “march of millions” on Saturday under the slogan “Leave!”.
“Confronting peaceful protesters with gunfire is something that should not be tolerated,” said Haitham Mohamed, a protester in Khartoum. “It will not make us back down; it only strengthens our resolve.”
Recent pro-democracy demonstrations, including in the immediate run-up to the coup, have hugely outnumbered pro-military rallies, which the generals are accused of backing as part of their preparations to seize power.
The military takeover came after weeks of mounting tensions between military and civilian leaders over the course and pace of Sudan’s transition to democracy.
Agencies contributed to this article.