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Sudan's military rulers say El-Obeid killings unacceptable, due to address nation

The head of Sudan's ruling military council said on Tuesday there must be immediate accountability over an incident in which at least four schoolchildren were shot dead at a protest.

Adds protests, background

KHARTOUM, July 30 (Reuters) - The head of Sudan's ruling military council said on Tuesday there must be immediate accountability over an incident in which at least four schoolchildren were shot dead at a protest.

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is due to make a televised address to the nation about Monday's incident at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT), Sudan TV said, although the nature of his comments was not yet clear.

The children's deaths came at a time of heightened tension between Sudan's military rulers and the main opposition coalition, which called for nationwide protests in response -- although the turnout was limited.

More talks between the two sides on the transition from military rule to a new sovereign council were due to take place on Tuesday but were postponed after the shooting, a pattern that has happened repeatedly after bouts of violence.

"What happened in El-Obeid is a regrettable and upsetting matter and the killing of peaceful citizens is unacceptable and rejected and a crime that requires immediate and deterrent accountability," Burhan was quoted by state news agency SUNA.

The pupils and an adult were shot dead when security forces broke up a student protest in El-Obeid, some 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Khartoum, opposition-linked doctors said.

The teenagers were rallying against fuel and bread shortages, residents said.

The Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition of opposition groups accused military and paramilitary forces of opening fire on the high school pupils.

The governor of North Kordofan state, General Al-Sadiq al-Tayeb Abdallah, said "infiltrators" had diverted a peaceful demonstration from its course and attacked a bank branch and tried to attack another, state news agency SUNA reported.

He did not say how the victims died but added that a committee had been set up to investigate.

After occasions when tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in the past months, just dozens protested on Tuesday on Sitteen Street, a main thoroughfare in the capital Khartoum, carrying photos of the victims, a Reuters witness said.

Dozens also demonstrated in other parts of the capital.

A member of an opposition-linked pharmacists' committee, who asked not to be named, said students and adults also went out in protest on Tuesday in El-Obeid, the state capital of North Kordofan.

He said he had accompanied a delegation from the FFC who visited on Monday to console victims’ families and visit the wounded.

The FFC called for those responsible for the deaths to be held accountable and for the military council to immediately agree the details of a new transitional authority.

The military council has been ruling Sudan since generals ousted veteran president Omar al-Bashir on April 11.

Long-stalled negotiations over the path towards the transition collapsed altogether when security forces broke up a protest camp outside the Defence Ministry on June 3, killing dozens of people.

However, Ethiopian and African Union mediators were able to bring them back to the table, and they signed a political accord on July 17. They have been wrangling over the details of a constitutional declaration since then.

Key dates in Sudan's political upheaval

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Samar Ahmed; Additional reporting and writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Alison Williams)

((Yousef.Saba@thomsonreuters.com; +201222184730))

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