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Security Forces In Sudan Move In On Protesters Pushing For Reforms

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Sudan, a doctor's group says nine people were killed today when government security forces moved against a camp of protesters in the country's capital. There were reports of machine-gun fire and explosions, and smoke was seen rising from the camp. Of course, all this is part of the aftermath of the historic political change in Sudan - the longtime authoritarian leader was overthrown. The military took over. And the protesters want democratic reforms, and they want them now.

NPR's Eyder Peralta is following developments from Kenya and is on the line. Eyder, what are you learning this morning?

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: So, you know, this is still developing, but what is clear is that Sudanese security forces have unleashed an incredible amount of violence on protesters. I've been talking to activists and protesters, and what we know is that a militia known as the rapid response forces (ph) moved into the sit-in this morning. And one of the protesters sent this video, and I want you to listen to it to give you an idea of the overwhelming force, the gunfire that the militia used.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Foreign language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

PERALTA: So what you're hearing - that's automatic gunfire. Videos that are being shared by protesters and activists - they show security forces beating protesters and civilians with sticks and whips. They show some who are being dragged to medical tents from apparent gunshot wounds. And they show tents at the protest site on fire and troops just moving through streets indiscriminately, and they're beating anyone who gets in front of them.

MARTIN: Can you tell us more about what this camp is like?

PERALTA: Yes. I was just there a few weeks ago, and it's huge. There were tents and stages and thousands of demonstrators who stayed there day and night. They had surrounded the Sudanese military headquarters. And I think, you know, what's important about this is to put it in context because history has been moving just really fast in Sudan the past two months.

MARTIN: Right.

PERALTA: So this sit-in was the culmination of months of protests in Sudan. Back in April, protesters braved bullets and tear gas, and they set up this camp. It forced the military to plan a coup and oust President Omar al-Bashir. And that was a huge moment, as you said. And this camp became a place to celebrate that a 30-year authoritarian leader was gone.

But all of this always felt fragile when you were there. The protest site was always surrounded by security forces, troops that were on pickup trucks, behind machine guns. And all the vehicles there were carrying rocket-propelled grenades. So there was always this very real threat of a violent crackdown, which is what we're seeing right now.

MARTIN: Do we have any idea what precipitated it? I mean, as you note, there's been this standoff for a long time. So what changed?

PERALTA: It's a power struggle. You know, the protest movement has always said they want a civilian-led government, and the military has said they want to remain in control. The two sides - they've been negotiating, but the military junta which took power after the coup has always remained firm. They want to remain in power. The leverage that the protest movement has is the number of people on the streets. And this crackdown is the military saying, this is over. We're done playing. We're moving you out of the streets. And this is pretty common, unfortunately, for Sudan. You know, this has been one of the most repressive countries in the world for decades.

MARTIN: I don't imagine, though, that this is going to quell the protesters' cries for democracy?

PERALTA: It's not. No, it's not. You know, this is - they've declared that, you know, they will strike. And right now they've shut down the airport, and they say they will continue to fight until the military junta is gone.

MARTIN: NPR's Eyder Peralta, thank you so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.