Sudan protests biggest threat yet to Bashir

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir speaks during a meeting with police officials at the headquarters of the "police house" in the capital Khartoum on December 30, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 04 January 2019
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Sudan protests biggest threat yet to Bashir

  • Some protesters have also adopted the slogan used in the 2011 Arab Spring — “the people want the fall of the regime”
  • Bashir came to power in a coup backed by extremists that toppled prime minister Sadiq Al-Madhi and his democratically elected government

PARIS: Deadly protests that have grown across Sudan in recent weeks are the biggest threat to President Omar Al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule since he swept to power in a 1989 coup, experts said.
Clashes have killed at least 19 since demonstrations began two weeks ago, initially in protest against bread prices tripling but rapidly evolving in to anti-government rallies.
Rights group Amnesty International has put the death toll at 37 and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for an investigation.
“These demonstrations and the anger that animates them are much stronger than any we’ve seen in recent years,” said Eric Reeves, a senior fellow at Harvard University who has been tracking Sudan’s politics and economy for two decades.
“The shortage of bread ... and outrageous price increases is perhaps the greatest source of immediate popular anger, and there is nothing that can alleviate the problem,” Reeves told AFP.
Protests erupted when the government raised the price of a small loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three (from about two to six US cents).
Several buildings and offices of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) were torched in the initial violence.
Some protesters have also adopted the slogan used in the 2011 Arab Spring — “the people want the fall of the regime.”
Bashir, wanted for genocide by the Hague-based International Criminal Court over a conflict in Darfur, came to power in a coup backed by extremists that toppled prime minister Sadiq Al-Madhi and his democratically elected government.
Since then the former military general has ruled the African country with a tight grasp, using the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) to curb dissent.
NISS agents regularly arrest opposition leaders, activists and journalists who voice anti-regime opinions.

Civil War

Bashir, 75, took control at the height of a brutal north-south civil war that only ended in 2005. Oil-rich South Sudan seceded in 2011, becoming the world’s newest nation state.
Separate conflicts between Sudanese forces and rebels in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states have also killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.
Analysts say these conflicts and a failure to boost agriculture in a country once renowned as a major bread producer have left Sudan’s economy in a shambles, despite Washington lifting a two-decade trade embargo in 2017.
Secession by the south — which took three quarters of Sudan’s oil reserves — has seen Khartoum experience an acute foreign exchange shortage.
Inflation has soared to 70 percent while shortages of bread and fuel have hit the capital and other cities.
“The economy has been collapsing for almost a decade ... but the regime functions as a kleptocracy and maintains power only through national budgets that are wildly skewed to military and security service expenses,” said Reeves.
“I think the anger we’ve seen will not dissipate.”
The ongoing protests are more widespread than those in January 2018 and September 2013.
They began first in outlying towns and cities, which had been left with a particularly acute shortage of wheat and flour, after supplies were diverted to Khartoum.
But despite the attempts to stockpile in the capital, the protests still spread there.
“The government and the ruling party was caught by surprise when protests erupted outside Khartoum,” said Khalid Tijani, editor of economic weekly Elaff.
“It just showed the ruling NCP how isolated it is.”
After three days without major demonstrations, the opposition and activists have called for further protests after prayers this Friday.

Weakened

The protests are the biggest challenge Bashir has faced, according to Tijani.
“The demonstrations have weakened his position,” he said. “President Bashir was about to get consitutional amendments to permit him to run for the presidency again in 2020, but he will now have to reconsider that.”
Reeves said even middle and lower ranking army officers are “generally appalled” at the country’s economic and political situation.
“Some openly side with the demonstrators,” he said.
About 22 political groups close to the government have asked for Bashir to step down.
Although a change of regime is still unlikely in the immediate future, a European diplomat said Bashir will now be under permanent pressure.
“The decisive factor will be the attitude of the security apparatus, especially the army,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
“If the repression becomes too harsh, the army won’t allow it and that’s why the current movement of protests is potentially momentous.”
Bashir and his government have no answers to Sudan’s economic problems, said Reeves.
“He faces open and growing popular opposition ... all this makes Bashir’s future highly uncertain,” he said.


Sudan security forces tear gas protesters in Omdurman

Updated 22 January 2019
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Sudan security forces tear gas protesters in Omdurman

  • The mushrooming protests are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s rule
  • Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar to fend off tear gas

KHARTOUM: Sudanese police fired tear gas at crowds of demonstrators in the capital’s twin city Omdurman on Tuesday protesting against the fatal wounding of a demonstrator last week, witnesses said.

The demonstration, which came ahead of planned nighttime rallies in both Omdurman and Khartoum just across the Nile, was the latest in more than a month of escalating protests against the three-decade rule of President Omar Bashir.

Bashir has made defiant appearances at loyalist rallies in Khartoum and other cities.

Chanting “overthrow, overthrow” and “freedom, peace and justice,” the catchword slogans of the protest movement, the demonstrators had gathered near the home of their dead comrade.

The doctors’ branch of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) said he had died on Monday from wounds sustained when demonstrators clashed with security forces in Khartoum on Thursday.

The SPA has taken the lead in organizing the protests after hundreds of opposition activists were detained, and its doctors’ branch has taken casualties.

Human rights groups say that several medics have been among more than 40 people killed in clashes with the security forces since the protests erupted on Dec. 19, 2018.

The authorities say 26 people have been killed, including at least one doctor, but blame rebel provocateurs they say have infiltrated the protesters’ ranks.

The mushrooming protests are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s rule since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Triggered by the government’s tripling of the price of bread, which brought demonstrators onto the streets of the eastern farming hub of Atbara and other provincial towns, the protests rapidly spread to the metropolis and other big cities as people vented their anger against the government.

A chronic shortage of foreign currency since the breakaway of South Sudan in 2011 deprived the government of most of its oil revenues, has stoked spiraling inflation and widespread shortages.

Bashir has survived previous protest movements in September 2013 and January last year.

But his efforts to blame the US for Sudan’s economic woes have fallen on increasingly deaf ears as people have struggled to buy even basic foods and medicines.

“I am tired of prices going up every minute and standing up in bread lines for hours only for the bakery’s owner to decide how many loaves I can buy,” a 42-year-old woman, Fatima, said during protests last week on the outskirts of the capital of Khartoum.

Fatima and others speaking to the AP would not provide their full names, insisting on anonymity because they fear reprisals by the authorities.

Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar or yeast and tree leaves to fend off tear gas. They said they try to fatigue police by staging nighttime flash protests in residential alleys unfamiliar to the security forces.

“We have used tactics employed by the Egyptians, Tunisians and Syrians but we have so far refrained from pelting security forces with rocks or firebombs,” said Ashraf, another demonstrator.

They said there was little they can do about live ammunition except to keep medics and doctors close by to administer first aid to casualties.

They also described checking paths of planned protests to identify escape routes and potential ambushes by police. Some of their slogans are borrowed from the Arab Spring days, like “the people want to bring down the regime.”