Death toll in Sudan army attack jumps as China, Russia block UN action

Sixty killed since raid at Khartoum sit-in, doctors say, as Security Council fails to adopt text condemning killings.

Doctors in Sudan say the number of people killed since security forces stormed a protest camp in the capital has jumped to at least 60, as European countries condemned the crackdown against the pro-democracy protesters but the UN Security Council failed to reach a position.

The death toll rise came as the ruling junta said on Wednesday it was open to new negotiations with an opposition alliance. 

Security forces fired live ammunition at dawn on Monday as they wiped out the sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum that had for weeks become the protesters' main rallying point in their long struggle for civilian rule.

The opposition-linked Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said on Wednesday the death toll since the operation on Monday - the last day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan - had risen from 35 to at least 60 people, with hundreds of others wounded.

The committee said it held "the militias of the [military] council ... responsible for this massacre".

Protesters have previously singled out the Rapid Support Forces, paramilitaries with origins in the 16-year-old war in the western region of Darfur, whose commander is deputy chairman on the ruling military council.

Sudan's military ruler on Wednesday offered to resume a dialogue on a transition to democracy, one day after he scrapped all agreements with the opposition coalition.

In a message for the Eid al-Fitr broadcast on state television, Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan paid homage to the uprising that began in December and culminated with the military overthrow and arrest of President Omar al-Bashir in April. He was still ready to hand over power to an elected government, he said.

"We in the military council, extend our hands to negotiations without shackles except the interests of the homeland," Burhan said.

He previously announced he was skipping any negotiations with protest groups and said he would organise elections within nine months.

Gunfire and gas

Activists Mohammed Najib and Hashim al-Sudani said there were street battles late on Tuesday and early Wednesday in Khartoum's Bahri and Buri districts between protesters and security forces mainly from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

"In Buri, there were lots of shootings and tear gas," al-Sudani said. "They tried to force people into narrow streets" to beat them.

Hundreds of residents of the northern suburb of Bahri blocked streets with barricades made from stones and waited by them in silence, a witness told AFP news agency. In the distance gunfire could be heard.

Burhan announced on Tuesday the military council was scrapping a plan for a three-year transition period and would hold elections within nine months - a plan rejected by the opposition.

"We consider it a statement of a coup and a counterattack on the people's revolution," Omer Eldigair, head of the Sudanese Congress Party, told reporters.

"We refute it all, from its beginning to the end. We refuse the call for an early election and we consider the statement of the military council conforms with the counter-revolution and is linked to the interests of the old regime."

China, Russia block statement

Separately, the Security Council met on Tuesday at the request of Britain and Germany to hear a briefing from UN envoy Nicholas Haysom, who has been working with the African Union (AU) on a solution to the crisis in Sudan.

But China, backed by Russia, blocked a bid to condemn the killing of civilians and issue an urgent call from world powers for an immediate halt to the violence, according to diplomats.

During the closed-door session, Britain and Germany circulated a press statement that would have called on the TMC and protesters to "continue working together towards a consensual solution to the current crisis", according to a draft seen by reporters.

But China strongly objected to the draft while Russia insisted that the council should await a response from the AU, diplomats said.

"I am told that China adamantly refused the draft statements, saying it was an internal matter," Al Jazeera's diplomatic editor James Bays, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, said. "They were backed in that by Russia, and Kuwait said the draft needed amendments," he added.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said the proposed statement was "unbalanced" and stressed the need to be "very cautious in this situation".

"We don't want to promote an unbalanced statement. It could just spoil the situation," Polyanskiy told reporters after the two-hour meeting.

After the Security Council failed to agree on a common position, eight European countries said in a joint statement that they "condemn the violent attacks in Sudan by Sudanese security services against civilians".

Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, The Netherlands and Sweden said the TMC's "unilateral announcement to cease negotiations, appoint a government and call for elections within a too short period of time is of great concern".

The European statement added: "We call for an agreed transfer of power to a civilian-led government as demanded by the people of Sudan.

For his part, Haysom, the UN envoy, told reporters: "I don’t want to engage too much in a discussion of who should do what because we are still hoping to play a role in bringing the parties together, we haven’t given up hope that a solution is still possible."

'We will continue this revolution'

Diplomats looked to a meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council on Wednesday to provide a response to the crisis, while others said the UN Security Council could revisit the issue and try to agree on a common stance.

"We need urgently a return to the negotiating table," German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said before the meeting. "Legitimacy cannot come from the barrel of a gun."

Negotiations between the TMC and protest leaders broke down recently over disagreements on whether a planned transitional body would be headed by a civilian or a military figure.

The bloody dispersal of the sit-in poses a new challenge to the popular protest movement, but organisers vowed to keep up pressure in the streets.

"Next week, we'll begin our civil disobedience," Mohamed Nagy Alassam, of the Declaration of Freedom and Changes Forces protest group, said.

"The military council has cut off the internet, they cut off the telecommunication networks to cover their crimes. We promise we will unveil the military's ugly crimes committed on the streets - from killing to rape to humiliation to fear. We will continue this revolution."

Agencies

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