Sudanese security forces deploy in large numbers ahead of fresh protests

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Sudanese demonstrators gather in Khartoum's twin city Omdurman on January 20, 2019, where Sudanese police fired tear gas at protesters ahead of a planned march on parliament. (AFP)
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Deadly protests have rocked Sudan since they first erupted on December 19 after a government decision to raise the price of bread. (AFP)
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Sudanese men take part in an anti-government protest on Friday, January 18. (AFP)
Updated 20 January 2019
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Sudanese security forces deploy in large numbers ahead of fresh protests

  • Police tear gas protesters during planned march to Parliament
  • Longtime ruler Omar Al-Bashir insists there will be no change of leadership except through the ballot box

KHARTOUM:  Sudanese police fired tear gas on Sunday at protesters ahead of a planned march on Parliament in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum, witnesses said.

Security forces were earlier deployed in large numbers in anticipation of fresh protests calling on longtime ruler Omar Bashir to step down, according to activists and video clips circulating online.

The videos show hundreds of security forces in all-terrain vehicles in Khartoum and heading to nearby Omdurman, a traditional hotbed of dissent that saw hours of pitched battles between police and protesters last week.

Sunday’s anticipated protests come amid a series of strikes, already underway or planned for this week, by professional unions, including doctors, teachers, lawyers and pharmacists. Demonstrations are also expected in other cities on Sunday.

Bashir, who came to power nearly 30 years ago, insists there will be no change of leadership except through the ballot box. Already one of the longest serving leaders in the region, he is expected to run for a new term in office in elections next year.

Bashir has repeatedly warned that the protests could plunge Sudan into the kind of chaos convulsing other countries in the region.

The protests erupted Dec. 19, initially over price hikes and shortages, but soon shifted to calling on the president to step down. Rights groups last week said at least 40 people have been killed in the protests, while the government acknowledged 24 deaths. Analysts say the protests have emerged as the biggest challenge yet to the authority of the veteran leader.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella group of trade unions that is leading the ongoing protest movement, called for fresh demonstrations on Sunday and several days over the coming week.

“We are calling for a march to Parliament in Omdurman on Sunday,” it said in a statement.

A doctors’ committee linked to anti-government protests apologized on Sunday for incorrectly reporting that a child had been killed in demonstrations in Khartoum that took place on Jan. 17.

Sudanese police said that two people had died in demonstrations that rocked Khartoum on Thursday, but protest organizers had reported that three people were killed, including a child, in clashes with riot police.

“This mistake happened because we trusted a confident source, but we are now investigating the matter,” a committee of doctors linked to the SPA said in a statement on Facebook, confirming that two people had died in the demonstrations on Thursday.

Riot police had on Thursday broken up a march on the presidential palace in Khartoum, while a rally took place later that day in the capital’s Burri district, witnesses said.

Although participants have so far been in the hundreds or low thousands, the continuing protests and strikes pose a challenge to Bashir’s rule. 

The absence of explicit support by Sudan’s Arab allies has made Bashir’s position even more tenuous.

However, the protests show a lack of clear leadership and their continuation could invite another military takeover. Union leaders say they want a transitional government of technocrats followed by free elections.

Bashir’s position was further weakened when a senior cleric revealed that he and fellow clerics have implicitly suggested to the Sudanese leader in a meeting that he step down, arguing that Islam takes precedence over individuals.

In a surprise disclosure in a Friday sermon, Sheikh Abdul-Hay Youssef said the clerics presented Bashir with a list of demands, including an end to corruption, bringing to justice anyone found responsible for the latest economic crisis and an end to the killing of protesters, something that the Sudanese leader has sought to justify on religious grounds.


Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

Updated 2 min 19 sec ago
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Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

  • Israeli leader faces Wednesday deadline to seal deal
  • Coalition talks deadlocked over military conscription bill
JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on Sunday on what he termed a “final effort” to break a deadlock on forming a governing coalition ahead of a Wednesday deadline for a deal.
In power for the past decade, Netanyahu has unexpectedly struggled to seal an agreement with a clutch of right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would align with his Likud party and ensure him a fifth term following Israel’s April 9 election.
Divisions between former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and United Torah Judaism over a military conscription bill governing exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students have plunged the coalition talks into stalemate.
Lieberman has long said ultra-Orthodox men must share other Israeli Jews’ burden of mandatory service. Ultra-Orthodox parties say seminary students should be largely exempt from conscription as they have been since Israel was founded in 1948.
A 42-day deadline mandated by law to announce a new government expires on Wednesday, and President Reuven Rivlin can then assign the task to another legislator after consultations with the leaders of political parties.
That could open the way for former military chief Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, to try. But he would need the backing of some of Likud’s allies to persuade Rivlin he could put together a ruling majority in parliament.
Likud and Blue and White each won 35 of the Knesset’s 120 seats seats in the April ballot, but Netanyahu was seen as having clinched victory because of the right-wing majority that emerged.
In a video published on Twitter on Sunday, Netanyahu said he had invited all of his negotiating partners to meet him in “a final attempt to form a right-wing government” and avoid “an unnecessary election.”
A Likud source said the sessions would be held later in the day and on Monday.
Parallel to the negotiations, Likud announced preparations for a possible national ballot, with November already touted by political analysts as a likely date.
Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar released a draft of a dissolution bill that he said he was submitting to parliament, but no date for a vote in the legislature was announced. Likud said its secretariat would meet on Tuesday “to prepare for an election.”
Some political commentators saw those moves as an attempt to pressure Likud’s negotiating partners into a deal, given the possibility of a voter backlash against another national ballot so soon after the previous one and the uncertainty of the election’s outcome in a country riven by divisions.
The scheduling of an election — and Likud could face an uphill battle for the necessary 61 votes in parliament to pass a dissolution resolution — would pre-empt a coalition-building assignment from Rivlin and ensure Netanyahu remains as interim prime minister until a new government is formed.
Already locked in a legal battle over his potential indictment in three corruption cases, Netanyahu has vowed to remain in office even if he is charged. He denies any wrongdoing and is scheduled to argue against indictment at a pre-trial hearing in October.