Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 September 2019

Two-day strike begins as Sudanese pro-democracy protesters demand political representation

The strike has left passengers stranded at the Khartoum airport and the capital's main bus terminal

Supporters of Sudanese Islamist movements shout slogans as they rally in front of the Presidential Palace in downtown Khartoum on May 18. AFP
Supporters of Sudanese Islamist movements shout slogans as they rally in front of the Presidential Palace in downtown Khartoum on May 18. AFP

Sudanese protesters launched a two-day general strike on Tuesday, escalating tensions between protest leaders and the country’s ruling military council.

Six weeks after longtime ruler Omar Al Bashir was removed from power and jailed, negotiations between the two sides are deadlocked over the composition and leadership of an 11-member "sovereign council", which is proposed to act as a collective head of state during a transitional period.

Protest leaders want civilians to lead and form the council's majority, while the military wants one of its own to head the body and for generals to have a majority of the seats.

"They (the generals) have refused all our proposals," Wajdi Saleh, a negotiator for the protesters, told reporters late on Monday.

"If we don't achieve our goals, we will use the civil weapon of an indefinite strike and civil disobedience."

Activists said people across the country showed a positive response to the call for a strike on Tuesday, which saw government and private sector employees report to work but not carry out any tasks.

The strike caused the capital’s Khartoum International Airport to close, with many workers chanting "civilian!” or carrying banners saying: "We are on strike!".

Activity at the country's main sea outlet, Port Sudan on the Red Sea, also came to a standstill, according to the activists.

Hundreds of passengers were stranded at Khartoum’s main bus terminal and many of its streets appeared deserted by the afternoon.

It has already been agreed that the majority of a proposed 300-member legislature will come from the Forces of Freedom and Change, an umbrella group of trade unions and political parties that is behind four months of street protests.

They have also agreed on a three-year transitional period before elections can be held, as well as a civilian-led government.

The military, which ruled Sudan for more than 50 of the 63 years since independence, however, insists that it needs to be at the helm of the government to guarantee the nation's security and stability.

The protest leaders counter this by saying they did not sacrifice so much – nearly 100 were killed and thousands injured, detained and tortured – to see Al Bashir, himself a former army general, replaced by the military.

Passengers wait outside the Khartoum airport as aviation professionals take part in a two-day national strike. AFP
Passengers wait outside the Khartoum airport as aviation professionals take part in a two-day national strike. AFP

They argue that it was the duty of the military to protect unarmed protesters against the security forces.

The protests began in December 2018, and a sit-in protest outside the armed forces headquarters in Khartoum began on April 6, initially to press the military to remove Al Bashir, who was ousted on April 11. The protest continues, demanding that the military hand over power to civilians.

However, the leader of a key FFC party has publicly voiced his disapproval of the two-day strike, signalling the first crack in the coalition. Former prime minister Sadeq Al Mahdi, whose freely elected but dysfunctional government was toppled by a 1989 military coup led by the Islamist Al Bashir, said the decision to launch the strike was not unanimous.

The Oxford-educated Mr Al Mahdi also served as prime minister in the 1960s.

The ruling military council, Gen Hamdan Dagalo, praised Mr Al Mahdi on Monday night for his conciliatory comments.

Gen Dagalo is the leader of a brutal militia, the Rapid Support Forces that fought rebels in the western Darfur region on behalf of Al Bashir's government. Better known by his nickname Hamedti, he previously professed a disinterest in politics, but has in recent days laid bare his political ambitions and emerged as the harshest critic of the protest leaders.

"There are (foreign) nations and many people behind them. People who pay (them) in dollars, as we have just discovered," he told police on Monday night. "The aim of those people is for us to hand over power and return to our barracks."

"We will not close the door to negotiations, but we must guarantee that all the Sudanese people participate in the political process.”

Hundreds of Gen Dagalo’s RSF are fighting Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen as part of a Saudi-led Arab coalition.

The military, which enjoys the backing of regional heavyweights, has already said it will call for elections within six months if negotiations with the protest leaders remain deadlocked.

Updated: May 28, 2019 08:10 PM

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