Over 800 protesters arrested in Sudan demonstrations: minister

Sudanese protesters chant slogans during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Khartoum on January 6, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 07 January 2019
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Over 800 protesters arrested in Sudan demonstrations: minister

KHARTOUM: More than 800 protesters have been arrested in anti-government demonstrations held across Sudan since last month, a minister said Monday, as hundreds gathered at a rally backing President Omar Bashir.

Deadly protests have rocked Sudan since Dec. 19, when unrest first broke out over a government decision to raise the price of bread.

Authorities say at least 19 people including two security personnel have been killed in clashes during the demonstrations, but rights group Amnesty International has put the death toll at 37.

Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman on Monday gave details to Parliament of arrests made during the protests and violence that marked several rallies.

“The total number of protesters arrested until now is 816,” Osman said.

The figure was the first given by officials for those detained since the rallies erupted initially in towns and villages and later spread to the capital Khartoum.

Osman told lawmakers there had been a total of 381 protests reported since Dec. 19.

He said that 118 buildings were destroyed in the protests, including 18 that belonged to police, while 194 vehicles were set on fire including 15 that belonged to international organizations.

“The demonstrations began peacefully, but some thugs with a hidden agenda used them to indulge in looting and stealing,” the minister said, adding that the situation across Sudan was now “calm and stable.”

Protests broke out when the government raised the price of a small loaf of bread from 1 Sudanese pound to 3 (from 2 to 6 US cents).

Several buildings and offices of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) were torched in the initial violence.

Sudanese authorities have launched a crackdown on opposition leaders, activists and journalists to prevent the spread of protests.

Sudan has been facing a mounting economic crisis over the past year led by an acute shortage of foreign currency.

The cost of food items and medicines has more than doubled and inflation has hit 70 percent.

Food and fuel shortages have been regularly reported across several cities, including Khartoum.

Most anti-government rallies have been spearheaded by professionals like doctors, teachers and engineers, but they have been swiftly broken up by riot police firing tear gas at protesters.

On Monday, crowds of protesters gathered in the city of Port Sudan but they were quickly dispersed by riot police, witnesses said.

As the anti-government unrest rumbled on, the first rally backing Bashir was held in the eastern city of Kassala.

Hundreds of people from Kassala and neighboring towns and villages gathered in front of the local governorate to express their support for Bashir.

Several supporters were carrying banners that read “Bashir, we want you to stay,” witnesses said.

“We want Bashir as president in order to maintain security in the country,” Mohameddin Issa, a resident of Kassala participating in the rally told AFP by telephone.

“Security is the top priority, after that comes food ... but I also believe that the problem of food will be solved soon.”

Bashir’s supporters also took to social networks Twitter and Facebook to back the rally in Kassala.

“The rally in Kassala shows how popular the government is and how safe the country is,” Ibrahim Al-Siddiq, spokesman of NCP wrote in a post online.

Authorities are holding a similar pro-regime rally in Khartoum on Wednesday.

Bashir has dominated Sudan for three decades since coming to power in 1989.


Powerful Algerian party abandons beleaguered Bouteflika

Updated 32 min 50 sec ago
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Powerful Algerian party abandons beleaguered Bouteflika

  • The National Rally for Democracy has joined ruling party officials, unions and business tycoons who have abandoned Abdelaziz Bouteflika
  • ‘The candidacy of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a new term was a big mistake’

ALGIERS: An influential Algerian party that was a long-time supporter of Abdelaziz Bouteflika has criticized the ailing president for seeking to stay in power, another setback for the ruling elite in the face of mass demonstrations.
The National Rally for Democracy (RND), a member of the ruling coalition, has joined ruling party officials, unions and business tycoons who have abandoned Bouteflika in recent days, after nearly a month of street demonstrations protests.
“The candidacy of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a new term was a big mistake,” RND spokesman Seddik Chihab told El Bilad TV.
“Extra constitutional forces have seized power in the past few years and ruled state affairs outside a legal framework.”
Bouteflika, who has ruled for 20 years, bowed to the protesters last week by reversing plans to stand for a fifth term. But he stopped short of stepping down and said he would stay in office until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term.
His moves have done nothing to halt demonstrations, which peaked on Friday with hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets of Algiers and have continued into this week.
RND leader Ahmed Ouyahia, a former prime minister who had close ties to intelligence agencies, has also switched sides. “The people’s demands should be met as soon as possible,” he told followers in a letter on Sunday.
Leaders have emerged from the protest movement, offering an alternative to Bouteflika’s political roadmap to what he says will be a new Algeria. But they have not built up enough momentum to force the president to quit or make more concessions.
The military, which wields enormous power from behind the scenes, has remained on the sidelines.
Another powerful figure, Bouteflika’s younger brother Said, has kept a low profile. The president has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke five years ago, and the protesters say a shadowy circle of aides, including Said, have been ruling the country in his name.
The protests continued on Tuesday, with students, university professors and health workers rallying in Algiers calling for Bouteflika to quit.
A new group headed by activists and opposition figures told the army not to interfere.
In the first direct public message to the generals from leaders emerging from the protests, the National Coordination for Change said the military should “play its constitutional role without interfering in the people’s choice.”