US voices concern over Sudan protests crackdown

Sudanese demonstrators run from a teargas canister fired by riot policemen in Omdurman, Khartoum. (Reuters)
Updated 23 January 2019
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US voices concern over Sudan protests crackdown

  • Excessive use of force and intimidation of the press 'would jeopardize ties with the US'
  • The statement was the first by Washington after a month of mushrooming protests

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Sudan to release activists detained in a wave of protests and to allow peaceful expression, warning that better ties with Washington were on the line.
The statement was the first by Washington after a month of mushrooming protests in what is widely seen as the biggest threat to President Omar al-Bashir's 30 years of iron-fisted rule.
The United States said it was "concerned about the increasing number of arrests and detentions" and urged the government to free "all journalists, activists and peaceful protesters who have been arbitrarily detained."
"We also call on the government to allow for a credible and independent investigation into the deaths and injuries of protesters," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in the statement.
"Moreover, to address the legitimate grievances of the population, the government must create a safe and secure environment for public expression and dialogue with the opposition and civil society in a more inclusive political process," he said.
He said that excessive use of force and intimidation of the press and rights activists would jeopardize ties with the United States.
"A new, more positive relationship between the United States and Sudan requires meaningful political reform and clear, sustained progress on respect for human rights," Palladino said.
The United States has been slowly mending relations with Sudan after decades of tension, including over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's refuge in the country in the 1990s and an anti-rebel campaign in the western region of Darfur that Washington described as genocide.
President Donald Trump's administration lifted sanctions on Sudan in 2017 and has said that, in return for further progress, it would remove the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism -- a designation that has held back foreign investment.
Human rights groups say that more than 40 people including several medics have been killed in clashes with security forces since the protests erupted on Dec. 19.
The authorities say 26 people have been killed, including at least one doctor, but blame rebel provocateurs they say have infiltrated the ranks of the protesters.


Sudan protesters remain resilient, but Bashir unbowed

Updated 31 min 13 sec ago
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Sudan protesters remain resilient, but Bashir unbowed

  • Demonstrators are pressing on with rallies despite a show of defiance from the veteran leader and a sweeping crackdown by the authorities
  • Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protester Osman Sulaiman has taken to the streets of Khartoum chanting “overthrow, overthrow” almost daily since demonstrations erupted against President Omar Al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule in December.
And he insists he has no intention of stopping now.
“We have to fight our battle if we have to secure our future and the future of our country,” Sulaiman, an engineering graduate who has been unemployed for years, told AFP.
As the protest campaign against Bashir’s regime enters its third month on Tuesday, demonstrators are pressing on with rallies despite a show of defiance from the veteran leader and a sweeping crackdown by the authorities.
Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 have been killed including medics and children.
Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists have been jailed by agents of the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
“The protesters’ resilience has been very impressive,” says Murithi Mutiga of International Crisis Group (ICG).
“Two months have passed, but the movement’s momentum has remained and participation has grown geographically and across socio-economic classes.”
On Sunday, scores of protesters rallied in Khartoum chanting their catchcry “freedom, peace, justice” as police fired tear gas.
Demonstrations first erupted on December 19 in the farming town of Atbara against a government decision to triple the price of bread.
But the rallies swiftly mushroomed into a major challenge to Bashir’s three-decade rule, with those taking part demanding his resignation.
From the provinces to the streets of the capital and its twin city Omdurman the demonstrations have spread through villages, towns and cities across the east African nation.
They have drawn in a cross section of society including middle-class professionals, agricultural laborers, youths and Bashir’s political opponents — with thousands of women and men rallying across the country on some days.
Only the three conflict zones of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan have remained largely devoid of mass demonstrations.
“Despite the violence unleashed by the regime, the movement has extended even to the rural areas,” said Mohamed Yusuf, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella group of unions that has spearheaded the campaign.
“We believe the movement will not stop as new groups have joined it.”
Sudan’s main opposition National Umma Party led by former premier Sadiq Al-Mahdi has backed the campaign and called for Bashir to step down.
Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 that overthrew the elected government of Mahdi.
The SPA has called on political groups to join their movement by signing a “Document for Freedom and Change.”
The text outlines a post-Bashir plan including rebuilding Sudan’s justice system and halting the country’s dire economic decline, the key reason for the nationwide demonstrations.
Sudan’s financial woes were long a cause of popular frustration before the anger spilt onto the streets after the bread price hike.
Soaring inflation along with acute foreign currency shortages have battered the economy, especially after the independence of South Sudan in 2011 took away the bulk of oil earnings.
Protest campaigners have kept their supporters motivated by announcing rallies on behalf of detained comrades or to honor “martyrs” killed in the protests.
If security forces have prevented protesters from reaching downtown Khartoum, then they have rallied in outlying neighborhoods, sometimes at night.
On occasion, the calls to protest have failed to mobilize people, but there have also been demonstrations that have seen crowds of professors, doctors, engineers and teachers chanting anti-Bashir slogans.
The president’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) insists that after two months the campaign has begun petering out.
“The protests continued for a long time but the reality is that demonstrations have now slowed,” said NCP spokesman Ibrahim Al-Siddiq.
“This is because protesters lack popular support.”
Analysts say continuing support from the security forces for the regime and Bashir’s own defiance have created a deadlock.
“The president remains very stubborn and the protesters remain very determined,” said Mutiga of ICG.
“What we now have is a clear stalemate.”
Bashir has countered the demonstrations with his own rallies, promising economic development in the country and promoting peace in its war zones.
Dismissing calls for his resignation, he has insisted that the ballot box is the only way to change the government.
The 75-year-old leader is considering a run for a third term in an election scheduled in 2020.
For now, those taking to the streets say they will keep up the pressure.
Aaya Omer, a resident of Khartoum’s eastern district of Burri, shows no sign of giving up.
“We will continue with our struggle because we deserve a better life,” the 28-year-old woman said.
“I’ll continue to protest until our mission to overthrow this regime is achieved.”