Key powers stick with Bashir despite mounting protests in Sudan

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Sudanese demonstrators march along the street during anti-government protests after Friday prayers in Khartoum, Sudan January 11, 2019. (Reuters)
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Russian President Putin with Omar Bashir in Sochi, Russia. (Reuters)
Updated 17 January 2019

Key powers stick with Bashir despite mounting protests in Sudan

KHARTOUM /CAIRO: The death toll from protests in Sudan that began last month has risen to 24, the head of the Sudanese government fact-finding committee Amer Ibrahim said on Saturday.

But key powers were standing by the ruling regime to ensure stability in a strife-torn region even as angry protests piled pressure on Sudanese President Omar Bashir to step down, analysts say.

Demonstrations that erupted in the provinces last month after the government tripled the price of bread have escalated into nationwide protests that analysts say pose the biggest challenge to Bashir since he took power in 1989.

Amnesty International has estimated that at least 40 people have died in the protests.

Despite the bloodshed, outside players iincluding major powers China, Russia and the US all see an interest in the 75-year-old staying at the helm.

“All camps in the region are at each other’s throat, but somehow they agree on Bashir,” said Abdelwahab Al-Affendi, author and an academic at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

“They seem to favor continuity. They believe that any other alternative might not be favorable to them and to the region.”

Egypt, which has deep historical ties with Sudan, has called repeatedly for stability in its southern neighbor, with its commanding position on the Nile on whose waters they both depend.

“Egypt fully supports the security and stability of Sudan, which is integral to Egypt’s national security,” President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi told a top Bashir aide who visited Cairo last week.

Days earlier, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry expressed confidence that Sudan would “overcome the present situation.”

Relations between Cairo and Khartoum had deteriorated sharply in 2017 over territorial disputes, but in recent months the two governments have ironed out their differences, with Sudan even lifting a 17-month ban on Egyptian agricultural produce.

Arab governments have scrambled to provide support, anxious to avoid any repetition of the upheavals that rocked the region in 2011.

“There has been evidence of tangible support to Bashir... be it from Egypt, Saudi or Qatar,” said Affendi.

“These allies are against any kind of successful uprising. They feel that if it happens, then they will be next,” he said, adding that the Arab Spring has not been forgotten.

Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, called Bashir just days after the protests erupted to offer his support.

During his long years in power, Bashir has built up relations with all of the region’s bickering diplomatic players, through a string of sometimes spectacular foreign policy twists.

Just days before the protests erupted, he traveled to meet Syrian President Bashar Assad in the first visit to Damascus by any Arab leader since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011.

“His foreign policy is in all directions driven by economic pressures,” said a European diplomat on condition of anonymity. The regime hosted Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, and then developed ties with Iran before severing them in 2016.

In October 2017, increased cooperation with Washington helped Khartoum get a decades-old US trade embargo lifted.

Washington has still kept Sudan on its blacklist of “state sponsors of terrorism” along with Iran, North Korea and Syria.

And although the US and the EU do not openly back Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges including genocide in Darfur, they work with Khartoum to ensure that “Sudan remains stable,” the diplomat said.

Any kind of instability in Sudan could trigger a new wave of Sudanese migrants headed toward Europe, he added.

Sudan’s strategic location in the Horn of Africa is a blessing for Bashir, said Amal El-Taweel of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

“I think the international and regional powers will not allow Sudan to fall,” she told AFP.

“But a lot depends on how the balance of power shifts on the streets,” she added.

Bashir surprised the West when he dumped Tehran for Riyadh in 2016. The Sudanese leader also sent hundreds of troops to join the Arab coalition battling Iran-linked Houthi militants in Yemen.

“The world also doesn’t want to see another new bastion of hard-liners that might be created if something like this happens.”

The shift was not just diplomatic. The Sudanese leader also sent hundreds of troops to join the Arab coalition battling Iran-linked Houthi militants in Yemen, in what he called an “ideological” decision.

By doing so, Bashir signaled to Gulf Arab monarchies that he was an asset in their struggle against Shiite Iran.

“In return Saudi and the United Arab Emirates have given Bashir just about enough to stay afloat, although no announcements have been made,” said Affendi, referring to financial aid to Khartoum.

For international powers like China, which has reportedly invested billions of dollars in Sudan, the country offers a gateway to the rest of the continent.

“For countries like China and Russia, Sudan is an entry gate to Africa,” the foreign diplomat said.

“Be it them or the West, nobody wants Sudan to crumble.”

(With AFP)

Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

Updated 21 July 2019

Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

  • Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately
  • Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month

HONG KONG: Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations.

Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately. Others continued toward Central, a key business and retail district and the site of the 2014 Umbrella Movement sit-ins.

Large protests began last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the bill dead, but protesters are dissatisfied with her refusal to formally withdraw the bill. Some are also calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights in city.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, and was promised certain democratic freedoms under the framework of 'one country, two systems.' Fueled by anger at Lam and an enduring distrust of the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing, the demonstrations have ballooned into calls for electoral reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Walking in sweltering heat, protesters dressed in black kicked off Sunday’s march from a public park, carrying a large banner that read 'Independent Inquiry for Rule of Law.' 'Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!' the protesters chanted, forming a dense procession through Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district as they were joined by others who had been waiting in side streets.

“I think the government has never responded to our demands,” said Karen Yu, a 52-year-old Hong Kong resident who has attended four protests since last month. “No matter how much the government can do, at least it should come out and respond to us directly.”

Marchers ignored orders from police to finish off the procession on a road in Wan Chai, according to police and the Civil Human Rights Front, the march’s organizers. Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month.

Their main demands include universal suffrage — direct voting rights for all Hong Kong residents — as well as dropping charges against anti-extradition protesters, withdrawing the characterization of a clash between police and protesters as a 'riot' and dissolving the Legislative Council.                   

Protesters read the demands aloud in both English and Cantonese in videos released Saturday. “We did not want to embark on this path of resisting tyranny with our bare bodies,” they said, “but for too long, our government has lied and deceived, and refused to respond to the demands of the people.”

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some confrontations between police and protesters have turned violent. In Sha Tin district last Sunday, they beat each other with umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping center. Demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1 by moving past barricades and shattering windows.

Meanwhile, police officers have used pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets to quell the crowds.On Friday, Hong Kong police discovered a stash of a powerful homemade explosive and arrested a man in a raid on a commercial building.

Materials voicing opposition to the extradition bill were found at the site, local media said, but a police spokesman said no concrete link had been established and the investigation was continuing.