Members of the Sudanese security forces have shot and killed six people, including an army officer, in overnight clashes with protesters behind the uprising that drove President Omar al-Bashir from power last month, a medical union said.
The killings took place after nightfall on Monday, when protests in Sudan usually swell during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is marked by dawn-to-dusk fasting.
The focus of the violence appears to have been close to the central Nile Avenue in the capital, Khartoum. Most of those injured and killed were protesters manning several barricades that have sprung up around the sit-in that has occupied a large central area for more than a month.
Hours earlier, Sudanese prosecutors announced they had charged Bashir with involvement in killing and incitement to kill protesters during the uprising, according to the state news agency SUNA.
Bashir is also wanted by the international criminal court on charges of war crimes and genocide linked to the Darfur conflict in the 2000s, but Sudan’s ruling military council has said it will not extradite him to the ICC at The Hague.
The shooting was the first serious violence between military forces and protesters since the first few nights of the sit-in – beginning on 6 April – when more than 20 people were shot and killed by the feared National Intelligence and Security Services, among them soldiers.
The latest violence broke out shortly after both sides in talks to create an interim joint military-civilian ruling council had announced that they had almost concluded a deal.
The shooting continued for several hours and broke out after protesters had begun to break their Ramadan fast with the traditional Iftar meal.
One protester, seen by the Guardian, had been shot in his leg on Nile Avenue while manning one of the barricaded checkpoints where those entering the occupied area are searched.
Said Mohamed Ali, who was also manning a barricade when the shooting broke out, said it had been impossible to identify the gunmen. “We don’t know who was shooting because it was too dark,” he said.
Local media suggested some of the assailants appeared to be wearing military uniform, including that of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the paramilitary force behind counterinsurgency campaigns in Darfur and other regions which is led by Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of the military council, who is widely known by his nickname Hemedti.
A few hours before the shooting, a heavily armed RSF convoy was seen on the streets nearby.
The attackers were strongly condemned, however, by the head of the transitional military council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who said they were “trying to abort agreement with the forces of freedom and change”, as the opposition coalition is known.
Burhan pointed to the peaceful character of the Sudanese revolution, adding: “The army is committed to protecting the protesters and we will arrest the perpetrators and we will hold them accountable.”
Burhan’s comments reflect fears of divisions in the security forces, which once sustained the former autocrat Bashir, some of whom sided with civilian protesters to bring him down after three decades in power.
Reflecting suspicions over the role of the security forces, however, Shamael Elnoor, a political analyst, blamed the transitional military council. “What happened last night is the responsibility of the military council. The people who shot the protesters I believe are from the RSF. Most of them are young recruits.”
Many in the protest movement are concerned that remnants of the Bashir regime may try to sabotage any transition to a more democratic Sudan.
The violence sparked scenes of chaos, with ambulances ferrying the wounded from the site of the sit-in to hospitals across the capital, while protesters called for blood donations.
As protest leaders encouraged people to remain at the sit-in, and searches at the entrance were redoubled, crowds chanted: “Prepare your coffin. It is you or your country.”