Sudan's military council said Wednesday the ruling generals are ready to resume negotiations with the opposition, after three days of a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that left 60 dead across the country.
The head of the council, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, said there would be "no restrictions" in talks with the leaders behind the months-long street protests.
"We open our hands to negotiations with all parties ... for the interest of the nation," Burhan said, adding that those responsible for the violent beak-up of the demonstrators' sit-in in the capital, Khartoum, would be held accountable.
Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, which is also part of the alliance and which is leading the demonstrations, said the protesters "totally reject" Burhan's call.
"This call is not serious," al-Mustafa told The Associated Press. "Burhan and those under him have killed the Sudanese and are still doing it. Their vehicles patrol the streets, firing at people."
"We will continue in our protests, resistance, strike and total civil disobedience," he added.
The motives for Burhan's about-face — if sincere — were not immediately clear. Burhan had earlier cut the negotiations and canceled all agreed-on points between the military and the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, an alliance which represents the protesters.
Meanwhile, the death toll in the military's violent crackdown on protesters reached 60 on Wednesday, organizers said.
The mounting casualties are the latest challenge to the protest movement, which now aims to show it can keep up pressure in the streets after its central rallying point — the weeks-long sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum — was wiped out on Monday.
In April, the movement succeeded in forcing the military to remove Sudan's longtime strongman, Omar al-Bashir. It then kept its sit-in going, demanding that the generals who took power hand over authority to civilians.
The last previously reported death toll stood at 40 but the Sudan Doctors Committee said security forces killed at least 10 people on Wednesday in Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman. That came after another 10 people were killed on Tuesday, including five in the White Nile state, three in Omdurman and two in Khartoum's Bahri neighborhood.
The doctors' committee is the medical arm of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has been spearheading protests against army rule. The medical group also said that at least 326 people were wounded in clashes in the past two days. The group said it feared the final death toll would be much higher.
Activists Mohammed Najib and Hashim al-Sudani said there were street battles late Tuesday and early Wednesday in Khartoum's Bahri and Buri districts between protesters and security forces, mainly from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, or RSF.
"In Buri, there were lots of shootings and tear gas," al-Sudani said. "They tried to force people into narrow streets" to beat them.
On Monday, members of the RSF, which human rights groups say carried out rapes, torture and killings of civilians in Sudan's Darfur region, and other troops waded into the protest camp outside the military's headquarters in Khartoum, opening fire and burning down tents. Other troops crushed two smaller sit-ins organized by the protesters elsewhere.
After al-Bashir's ouster, for weeks, the military and protest leaders negotiated over the makeup of a transitional council meant to run the country for three years before elections. Protesters demand that civilians dominate the council, but the generals resisted.
The crackdown put an end to the relative peace that surrounded the talks and signaled the military had lost patience with activists' demands, putting the two sides on the path of a potentially longer confrontation with increasing violence.
Burhan's latest remarks marked a significant change from his televised speech early Tuesday, when the general blamed protest leaders for the volatile situation, accusing them of drawing out negotiations and trying to exclude some "political and security forces" from taking part in any transitional government.
He also announced the military would unilaterally form an interim government and hold elections sooner, within seven to nine months, under international supervision, and said that any agreements reached earlier in the negotiations with the demonstrators were canceled.
Protesters rejected the move because it would put the military in charge of running the election.
Since Monday, tensions have remained high in Khartoum and elsewhere as demonstrators staged scattered rallies and blocked main roads with barricades. Security forces have been seen in online videos, patrolling Khartoum districts.
Madani Abbas Madani, a leading activist, said the protesters would continue an open-ended civil disobedience campaign until the overthrow of the ruling military council.
"What happened on Monday was a systematic and planned attempt to impose repression on the Sudanese people," he said in televised comments late Tuesday.
In a joint statement, the U.S., Norway and Britain have condemned the Sudanese security forces for violent attacks on protesters.
The statement, released late Tuesday, said Sudan's military council "put the transition process and peace in Sudan in jeopardy" by ordering attacks on peaceful protesters.