Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Sudanese police fire tear gas at protesters as country closes for civil strike

Following the deaths of 117 protesters last week, leaders of the movement have called an unending national walkout

Demonstrators marching in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on Sunday were met with tear gas and riot police, a week after dozens were killed when government-linked militias cleared a protest camp.

This is the latest bid by protesters to close off streets in the capital after over 100 were killed in a raid on a sit-in outside the army headquarters that formed days before longtime leader Omar Al Bashir was forced from office in April.

Protesters gathered tyres, tree trunks and rocks to build new roadblocks in Khartoum's northern Bahari district, a witness reported, but riot police swiftly moved in and fired tear gas at them.

"Almost all internal roads of Bahari have roadblocks. Protesters are even stopping residents from going to work," the witness said.

Security forces removed barricades from the main roads and opened the sit-in area outside the military's headquarters for the first time since the dispersal. The Sudanese Professionals Association, which first launched protests against Mr Al Bashir in December, urged protesters to avoid clashes with the RSF.

The SPA announced a nationwide civil disobedience campaign starting on Sunday after last week’s violence that drew strong international criticism and calls for parties to return to the negotiating table.

The association said the movement will end only after the military rulers, who took over after Mr Al Bashir's ouster two months ago, transfer power to a civilian government. Negotiations with the interim military leadership broke down over the role and representation of civilian held positions on the proposed council that would lead the country towards democratic elections.

Khartoum residents have mostly remained indoors over the past few days and the downtown business district was largely shut on Sunday.

Several vehicles of the notorious Rapid Support Forces, blamed by witnesses for Monday's killings, were seen moving across some parts of the capital loaded with machine guns.

Buses were not running in several districts, but private vehicles were ferrying passengers in some areas.

Airlines have grounded most of their Sudan flights since the deadly raid and several passengers were left queuing outside Khartoum airport's departures terminal Sunday, although it was unclear whether any flights would take off.

In Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman, across the River Nile, many shops and markets remained closed but residents were seen buying staples in some grocery stores.

"Troops were also seen removing roadblocks from some streets in Omdurman," an onlooker said.

Residents have remained on edge since the raid on the sit-in, which killed at least 117 people according to doctors close to the demonstrators.

The health ministry says 61 people died nationwide, 49 of them by "live ammunition" in Khartoum.

Witnesses say the assault was led by the RSF, who have their origins in the notorious Janjaweed militia, accused of abuses in the Darfur conflict between 2003 and 2004.

Demonstrators had been camped out for weeks in Khartoum to pressure the ruling generals into transferring power, but talks between protest leaders and the military broke down mid-May.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed travelled to Sudan on Friday in a bid to revive negotiations, holding separate meetings with the two sides after which he called for a "quick" democratic transition.

Opposition politician Mohamed Esma; Ismail Jalab, a leader of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North and the group’s spokesman Mubarak Ardol were all arrested after meeting Mr Abiy.

Mr Esmat and Mr Jalab are both leading members of the Alliance for Freedom and Change, an umbrella of opposition parties and some rebel groups.

The SPA posted photos it said were of an empty Khartoum International Airport. It said airport workers and pilots are taking part in the civil disobedience.

Videos circulated online showed offices and businesses closed and light traffic, in both Khartoum and the Red Sea city of Port Sudan. Some state banks and public utility offices were working normally.

Pope Francis on Sunday appealed for peace in Sudan following a bloody crackdown by security forces on pro-democracy protesters in Khartoum last week.

"The news coming from Sudan is giving rise to pain and concern. We pray for these people, so that the violence ceases and the common good is sought in the dialogue," the pope said in his weekly address to crowds in St Peter's Square.

Updated: June 10, 2019 03:05 AM

SHARE

SHARE