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Death Toll Rises After Sudan's Military Fires On Sit-In Protesters


The death toll in Sudan has risen sharply. A doctors group there now says more than 30 people were killed and hundreds wounded when the military fired on a sit-in outside the defense ministry. Pro-democracy protesters want a new government in Sudan. They have been negotiating with the military. In a televised statement, the military said now all agreements are off, and elections will happen within nine months.

Joining us now is Nima Elbagir. She is senior international correspondent with CNN. She was in Sudan not long ago, and she joins us now from London. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

NIMA ELBAGIR: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Nima, I understand you're in touch with people in Khartoum. What are you hearing now that this violence has happened?

ELBAGIR: My parents are actually still in Khartoum. We're lucky that they are among the few whose mobile phones still work. There's been a widespread outrage. It just sounds incredibly scary that the city is in a state of paralysis. Activist groups have called for a general strike, and people seem to be sticking to it. Roads are closed off.

And what makes this particularly terrifying is it's not even really the armed forces that people are clashing with. It's a specific paramilitary segment that was regularized as part of the armed forces but used to be an out-of-control militia in Darfur - the Janjaweed militias, the Rapid Support Forces. And that's what's scaring people is that this isn't even a regular force that's taken control of the town.

MARTIN: This means the military is fracturing? I mean, we should say all this happened after protesters demanded the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir. And military there is now in charge of Sudan, but what you are describing is that there is no cohesive military either. Right?

ELBAGIR: Absolutely. The military as a token is in charge. The head of the military council is a general. But the second in command is head of these forces, the Rapid Support Forces. And everyone I've spoken to on the ground says those are the people that are on the streets. All the videos that we've been sent by eyewitnesses, from the citizens show that it was Rapid Support Force guards that charged the sit-in. And it's incredibly chilling because this is a militia that was accused of war crimes in Darfur. And to have them control the ground in the capital of Sudan is very scary for people right now.

MARTIN: Do we know if the protest camp has now completely dispersed? Are people still there?

ELBAGIR: People are still there, and people are still very defiant. I think that's really the only word you can use for people who've spent the last month fasting during Ramadan in extremes of heat. And they now say that we will not step down; we will not stand back until this military council has been deposed.

MARTIN: Well, now the military is saying we're going to stall these negotiations. Any agreement that we had settled is off, but we're going to hold elections within nine months. Is that good news for the protesters?

ELBAGIR: It is - they take it as good news, but the reality is it's not because the only infrastructure that remains intact is the infrastructure of the former regime and the former ruling party. It's difficult to see how, in a situation where people are fearing for their lives, you can put together a cohesive electoral campaign. Even though the military council says that they will allow observers in, this is a military council that is blocking journalists - that has suspended Al Jazeera, that has suspended other journalists from doing their work. So there's a lot of disbelief that they will allow observers to carry out their job.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, they will just continue to sit-in, to protest, to demand democratic reforms even if they are unlikely.

ELBAGIR: To resist - that's what we're hearing - that so much blood has been spilled, so many lives have been lost that to turn back now is unthinkable to many of those people we're speaking to on the ground, Rachel.

MARTIN: CNN's Nima Elbagir. She is senior international correspondent with CNN covering Sudan. She joined us from London on Skype. Thank you so much.

ELBAGIR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.