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Months into civilian protests, Sudan’s military launches violent crackdown

Sudanese security forces attacked a protest camp in the country’s capital Monday, opening fire, torching tents and killing dozens of people. The months-old sit-in protest forced out Sudan’s ruler in April, but since then, negotiations around what government will succeed him have stalled. John Yang talks to Michael Georgy of Reuters about what sparked the crackdown and what’s at stake.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    We return now to the military crackdown in Sudan today, the worst violence since the overthrow of the country's president in April.

    John Yang has the latest.

  • John Yang:

    Amna, the violence day targeted the center of a months-long civilian movement that forced the downfall of the country's longtime ruler, Omar al-Bashir.

    Dozens were killed as protesters dodged live gunfire. The main opposition group accused the military of committing a massacre. Protesters vowed to remain on the streets until the generals who replaced Bashir in April hand power to a civilian-led government.

    Opposition groups suspended talks with the military after today's crackdown. The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum urged Sudanese forces to stop the attacks and blamed the military for the violence.

    For more on this, we're joined by Michael Georgy. He's a special Middle East correspondent for Reuters, and he joins us by Skype from Khartoum.

    Mr. Georgy, thank for joining us.

    First of all, can you tell us — it's late Monday night where you are right now. What is the situation on the streets now?

  • Michael Georgy:

    Well, the streets are very quiet at the moment.

    But it started very violently today. And the situation is very tense. But, at the moment, it's quiet.

  • John Yang:

    What led to today's events? What triggered the events?

  • Michael Georgy:

    Well, I think the military council ruling the country lost patience.

    They have been in negotiations that stalled over handing over power to civilian government. They want an arrangement where they can stay in charge, even if there's a civilian government, which was rejected by protesters.

  • John Yang:

    And those talks are — you say they're stalled. And is that the main sticking point, is who's going to control the government in this interim period before elections?

  • Michael Georgy:


    The main — the main problem is that the military wants to stay in control and basically dominate politics, while the opposition forms some kind of civilian government.

  • John Yang:

    And as I understand it, both sides have agreed on elections in three years. It's a question of what happens between now and then?

  • Michael Georgy:

    Yes, that's right. The transition is the issue.

  • John Yang:

    We have heard the opposition accuse the military of a massacre in this incident. What is the military's explanation?

  • Michael Georgy:

    The military has downplayed the violence. They have said they were attacking criminal elements.

    And they actually at one point announced that they were ready to resume talks. But, obviously, the opposition completely rejects this. So they do see it as a massacre. It's been the most violent attack since Bashir was toppled in April. And it's clearly the strongest signal that the military is not going to compromise, at least for now.

  • John Yang:

    Based on the reports from the street and what you have been able to gather and your colleagues have been able to gather, how much truth — or how likely is the military explanation that they weren't targeting the protesters, they were targeting criminal elements?

  • Michael Georgy:

    Well, it's clear that they broke up the sit-in, which has been a huge symbol of resistance. So there's no doubt they were — they were — their aim was to disperse the sit-in.

    However, some protesters have gone to other parts of Khartoum, barricaded streets with burning tires, et cetera. So that could be an issue, and it could escalate the crackdown, if it doesn't end.

  • John Yang:

    The military leaders have gotten some support from regional powers, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates. They have met with them, the leaders of the military who now — are now in power.

    What's at stake for those regional powers in Sudan?

  • Michael Georgy:

    The regional powers are concerned about political Islam, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, across the Middle East.

    Sudan, of course, has 30 years of rule by Islamists. So what they want is to root out the Islamists. And that's pretty clear, because, after the coup, they promised billions of dollars. And there have been movements from General Hemeti and others, the head of the council, to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Egypt.

    So it's obvious they have got full support from those countries, which will make it likely that the military doesn't need to really make concessions at this point.

  • John Yang:

    Michael Georgy of Reuters joining us from Khartoum, thank you very much.

  • Michael Georgy:

    Thank you.

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