Sudan’s ruling military council said on Tuesday it was canceling all agreements with the main opposition coalition and called for elections within nine months, following the worst violence since President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in April.
The decision by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) is likely to fuel anger among protest leaders who have demanded preparations for elections during a longer transitional period led by a civilian administration.
The TMC had been under both domestic and international pressure to hand over power to civilians.
At least 35 people were killed when security forces stormed a protest camp outside the Defense Ministry in central Khartoum on Monday amid heavy gunfire, according to a group of doctors linked to the opposition. The group had earlier said that at least 116 people were wounded.
The main protest organizers, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), accused the TMC of perpetrating “a massacre” as it broke up the camp, a charge denied by the council.
TMC spokesman Lieutenant General Shams El Din Kabbashi said security forces were pursuing “unruly elements” who had fled to the protest site and caused chaos.
The camp had become the focal point of pressure on the country’s military rulers to hand over power to civilians.
Sudan has been rocked by unrest since December when anger over rising bread prices and cash shortages broke into sustained protests that culminated in the armed forces moving to oust Bashir.
But talks between a coalition of protesters and opposition parties have ground to a halt amid deep differences over who will lead a transition to democracy that both sides had agreed will last for three years.
In a televised address in the early hours of Tuesday morning, TMC leader Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said that the opposition coalition was equally responsible for the delay in coming to a final agreement.
The TMC had decided to cancel all agreements with the protest groups and call for elections within nine months, which he said will be organized under regional and international supervision.
“Gaining legitimacy and a mandate does not come but through the ballot box,” Burhan said.
He also announced that a government would immediately be formed to run the country until elections are held.
The protest organizers have not officially responded to Burhan’s decision. They had earlier condemned the violence and vowed to escalate protests to force the military rulers to hand over power to civilians.
Burhan said he regretted the violence that accompanied what he described as “an operation to clean the Nile Street” and said that the violence will be investigated.
The operation drew condemnation from Europe, the United States, and the African Union.
Sudan has been on a U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism since 1993 that denies the country access to financial markets and strangles its economy.
Washington lifted a 20-year trade embargo against Sudan in 2017 and was in discussions to remove it from the sponsor of terrorism list when the military stepped in on April 11 to depose Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years.