Sudanese troops move to protect protesters in Khartoum

Defiant Sudanese say their revolution isn’t over yet
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Some members of the Sudanese army have moved to protect protesters in the capital, Khartoum, after national security forces attempted to break up the third day of a mass sit-in outside the presidential compound and army headquarters, according to an opposition union of doctors.

A soldier was killed in clashes on Monday as he tried to defend demonstrators from security agents who were firing tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the crowds, the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (CCSD) said.

Signs of a split between Sudan’s army and its security service could mark a significant turning point for protesters, who have been calling for the removal of President Omar al-Bashir since December.

Over the weekend, crowds converged on the heart of Bashir’s rule — Sudan’s presidential palace and the nation’s military headquarters — responding to a renewed call for protests from the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella organization of doctors, lawyers and journalists that has led many of the demonstrations.

The sit-in has grown into one of the biggest rallies since the uprising began earlier this year, with crowds braving temperatures of more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) to camp out in the streets of the capital.

On Monday, the mood among protesters outside the compound verged on victorious, with people chanting “thawra” (revolution) and waving the national flag aloft as soldiers looked on, footage from the scene showed.

Photos captured protesters sitting atop military vehicles and handing out water bottles, as others posed for selfies with members of the armed forces, flashing V-for-victory gestures.

CNN could not independently confirm the size of the crowds, but the SPA estimated that hundreds of thousands of protesters had gathered in front of the compound over the weekend. Because of the nature of the protests, Khartoum officials and police are not commenting publicly on the numbers.

State-run news agency SUNA reported Sunday that Bashir had met with his national defense and security council to discuss the demonstrations. The council stressed that protesters’ demands must be considered and called for continued dialogue to end the crisis, according to SUNA.

Sudan’s government has reported some 32 fatalities since the protests began earlier this year, including three security personnel, but doctors and opposition activists suggest the toll is much higher. At least eight more people were killed in demonstrations over the weekend, according to CCSD.

More than 3,000 people have been arrested since protests began in December, based on testimony gathered by CNN from activists, lawyers and victims. Many have been taken to secret detention sites known as “ghost houses,” which the government says don’t exist, and where detainees say they face physical and psychological torture.

An undercover CNN team reporting in Khartoum last month witnessed the brutal crackdown on protests that began over a rise in the cost of living but have escalated into the largest popular demonstrations Sudan has seen since Bashir came to power 30 years ago.

Read More: As Sudan brutalizes its people, the US offers closer relations

CNN’s investigation revealed that Sudan’s government is failing to comply with a key requirement of ongoing normalization talks with the United States: improving “human rights protections and practices.”

The reports of excessive force have been condemned by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International and, just last week, a bipartisan group of US senators.

On Thursday, senators including Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Cory Booker, raised their concerns over the muted US policy response to the crackdown in Sudan in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“While the long-term effects of the protests and calls for transition remain unclear, twice in Sudan’s recent history — in 1964 and 1985 — civil protests have brought down military regimes, giving a clear example of the potential outcome of this mass movement,” the senators wrote.

The European Union also released a statement on the situation, saying on Sunday that it expects “the call for change will prompt a commitment to a peaceful, credible, legitimate and inclusive process that will allow Sudan to carry out essential reforms.”