At least seven protesters were shot dead in Sudan on Thursday, medics said, as huge crowds staged rallies against an October military coup, reported DW, quoting news agencies Reuters and AFP.
In the capital, Khartoum, security forces fired tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to push back the demonstrators marching toward the presidential palace, witnesses said. They estimated that the crowds in Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Bahri numbered in the tens of thousands.
Internet services were suspended after activists called for mass protests to mark the third anniversary of huge demonstrations that led to the overthrow of autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir. That uprising paved the way for a power-sharing arrangement between civilian groups and the military.
While web blackouts have been one of many tools used by authorities to restrict information flows, it is the first time in months that connectivity has been blocked ahead of demonstrations.
Orders to shut down the internet came from authorities, staff at Sudan's two private sector telecoms companies told the Reuters news agency.
Earlier in the day, security forces closed bridges between the capital and its two sister cities and fired large amounts of teargas at the gathering crowds, witnesses reported. Civilians pushed back using stones to barricade key entry and exit points throughout the city.
"June 30 is our way to bring down the coup and block the path of any fake alternatives," said the Forces for Freedom and Change, an alliance of civilian groups whose leaders were ousted in the coup.
A UN special representativecalled this week on security forces to exercise restraint. "Violence against protesters will not be tolerated," Volker Perthes said in a statement.
Sudan's Foreign Ministry was critical of Perthes' comments, saying they were built on "assumptions" and "contradict his role as facilitator" in dialogue between the country's military leadership and civilian groups.
Protests mark the anniversary of several military coups
Internet access in Sudan was shut down for more than a month in 2019 after activists staged protests against a military coup that had toppled the active civilian-military transitional government.
Thursday's protests also marked the anniversary of the 1989 military coup that crumbled Khartoum's last civilian-elected government.
Foreign governments and aid groups slashed aid to Sudan in response to the new leadership's ascent to power, amplifying the economic crisis that was already present in the country.
The UN, African Union and IGAD attempted to stage negotiations between generals and civilians, but the main civilian factions have refused their efforts.