The head of Sudan’s ruling military council said the incident in which at least four school children were shot dead at a protest was “regrettable” and called for a quick resumption of negotiations over political transition.
The children’s deaths came at a time of heightened tension between Sudan’s military rulers and the main opposition coalition, which called for nationwide protests in response – although the turnout was limited.
In an interview on state television, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said he hoped a deal between the military council and the main opposition coalition could be reached “as soon as possible”.
“What happened in El-Obeid and incidents before are all regrettable,” Burhan said. “No one accepts the death or killing of any Sudanese person and this may be a motive prompting us to sign as soon as possible to bring life back to normal,” Burhan said.
Further talks between the sides on the transition from military rule to a new sovereign council were due on Tuesday but postponed after the shooting, a pattern happening repeatedly after bouts of violence.
“The military council’s delegation is ready to begin negotiations at any time,” he added.
Six people, at least four of who were students, were shot dead on Monday when security forces broke up a student protest in El-Obeid, some 400 km south-west of Khartoum, opposition-linked doctors said. The teenagers were rallying against fuel and bread shortages, residents said.
The Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition of opposition groups accused military and paramilitary forces of opening fire on the high school pupils.
The governor of North Kordofan state, General Al-Sadiq al-Tayeb Abdallah, said “infiltrators” diverted a peaceful demonstration and attacked a bank branch and tried to attack another, state news agency SUNA reported.
Burhan said he could not as of yet confirm who shot at the school children and that the matter was still under investigation.
Schools have been suspended for an indefinite period following instructions from the military council, SUNA said.
After occasions when thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in the past months, just dozens protested on Tuesday on Sitteen Street in Khartoum, carrying photos of the victims, a Reuters witness said.
Dozens demonstrated in other parts of the capital.
A member of an opposition-linked pharmacists’ committee, who asked not to be named, said students and adults went out in protest on Tuesday in El-Obeid, North Kordofan state capital.
He said he accompanied a delegation from the FFC who visited to console victims’ families and those wounded.
The FFC called for those responsible for the deaths to be held accountable and for the military council to immediately agree the details of a new transitional authority.
“I am outraged by the deaths of protesters including school children in El-Obeid,” said African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat in a tweet on Tuesday. “The right to peaceful assembly and the safety of all citizens, especially children, must be upheld.”
The US Embassy in Khartoum condemned the violence , saying, “The use of live ammunition is never an appropriate response to a peaceful demonstration. This tragic event makes even more urgent formation of a civilian-led transitional government broadly supported by the Sudanese people.”
The military council has been ruling Sudan since generals ousted veteran president Omar al-Bashir on April 11.
Long-stalled negotiations over the path to transition collapsed when security forces broke up a protest camp outside the Defence Ministry on June 3, killing dozens of people.
Ethiopian and African Union mediators were able to bring them back to the table and a political accord was signed on July 17.