Sudan accuses protest leaders of threatening national security

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrives to address members of the Popular Defence Force (PDF), a paramilitary group, in the capital Khartoum on February 12, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 15 February 2019
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Sudan accuses protest leaders of threatening national security

  • Officials say 30 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 people have been killed

KHARTOUM: Sudan on Thursday accused campaigners spearheading protests against President Omar Al-Bashir’s rule of threatening national security and advocating violence, as hundreds of demonstrators staged more rallies.
The country’s acting Information Minister Mamun Hassan warned of taking legal action against protest leaders after campaigners vowed to push on with their “uprising” against Bashir’s three-decade rule.
“It is confirmed what we always said that this... group is calling for violence,” Hassan said in a statement.
Protest campaigners on Wednesday held their first news conference at the offices of the main opposition National Umma Party since demonstrations erupted in December.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which is leading the protests, and its allies called on other 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 African country’s dire economic decline, the key reason for nationwide demonstrations.
A senior representative of the National Umma Party, which has thrown its weight behind the protests, said at the event that it would continue the “uprising until this regime is overthrown.”
Party leader Sadiq Al-Mahdi, a former prime minister whose government was toppled by Bashir in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, last month called for the president to step down.

Protests first erupted in Sudan on December 19 in the farming town of Atbara after a government decision to triple the price of bread.
They quickly escalated into near-daily demonstrations across cities and towns that analysts say pose the greatest challenge to Bashir since he took power.
Officials say 30 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 people have been killed.
The authorities led by the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) has launched a sweeping crackdown to quell the protests.
Rights groups say hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, and activists have been arrested, while media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said Thursday that at least 79 journalists have been arrested.
“These systematic arrests have targeted not only reporters covering protests ... but also journalists who themselves dared to protest against the regime’s policy of censorship,” the press freedom group said.
Protesters have pushed on with their near daily rallies despite the clampdown.
Hundreds demonstrated Thursday in central Khartoum after campaigners called to show support for millions affected by conflicts in the country’s three war-wracked regions of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
Protesters chanting “freedom, peace, justice,” the rallying cry of the anti-government movement, demonstrated were quickly confronted by riot police with tear gas, witnesses said.
Police later broke up the rally, but demonstrators took to the streets in the northern district of Bahari, witnesses said, adding that they too were confronted with tear gas.
Crowds of people living in a camp for the displaced in conflict-wracked Darfur in western Sudan also staged a rally, residents said.
“The residents of camp Zam Zam, mostly young men and women, are chanting anti-government slogans in the center of the camp,” resident Mohamed Issa told AFP by telephone.

Over the years, tens of thousands of people have been killed in Sudan’s internal conflicts and millions more displaced, with hundreds of thousands still living in sprawling camps, especially in Darfur.
The war in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, accusing it of marginalizing the region.
“Those who are demonstrating across the country are saying that we are one nation,” said Hassan Adam, a resident of Zam Zam camp.
“We want to build a new Sudan that does not differentiate between a Zurga (black African) and an Arab.”
President Bashir — indicted for war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court — has remained defiant in the face of the protests, promising to promote development and peace across the country, including in conflict-hit states.


Film cameras start to roll again in Damascus studios

Updated 26 March 2019
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Film cameras start to roll again in Damascus studios

  • The film and television business has been hit hard by a war that has killed half a million people

DAMASCUS: On a long-disused film set outside Damascus featuring mud houses, palm trees, alleyways and camels, actors in flowing robes are making a television series that the producers say is part of a gradual revival of their industry.
Like most other sectors of the economy in Syria, the film and television business has been hit hard by a war that has killed half a million people, forced millions from their homes and laid waste to swathes of the country since 2011.
Any films or TV series made by Syrian production houses during the war were rarely bought by the customers in the Gulf and elsewhere that once made up an important part of their market. Actors and directors moved abroad. Studios lay silent.
However, fighting around Damascus ended last year after a series of massive government offensives, reflecting a wider increase in state control around the country, and Syrian studios are starting to work again.
Ziad Al-Rayes, head of the television producers’ association in Syria, said it was again possible to film comfortably and effectively.
“Here you can find four seasons. Here you have mountains, desert, valleys and snow,” he said. It is cheaper to film in Syria than elsewhere, he added.
The television series being produced outside Damascus is about a Sufi cleric called Muhiy Al-Din bin Arabi, and is set in historic Makkah, the holiest city of Islam located in modern-day Saudi Arabia.
It is being made to air in the United Arab Emirates, the producers said. Television series are also being made for broadcast in Lebanon and in Syria’s two closest allies Russia and Iran, the producers’ association said.
The film set was part of a large studio lot that was unused for most of the war and shows signs of disrepair. A nearby set in the same studio is made up like an ancient Roman city.
During the war many famous Syrian actors left the country to work in other Arab states. One well-known actor, 41-year-old Qays Al-Sheikh Najib, is now filming for the first time in Syria for eight years, playing a photographer in a new series called A Safe Distance, which looks at how the Syrian war affected people.
“Syrian actors always tried to keep up their good level and they could maintain their level in the Arab world,” he said.