Sudan holds ‘million-strong’ protest march

Sudanese protesters wave the national flag during a "million-strong" march outside the army headquarters in the capital Khartoum on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 25 April 2019
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Sudan holds ‘million-strong’ protest march

  • Rally outside the army headquarters comes after the military rulers and protest leaders agreed to set up a joint committee
KHARTOUM: Tens of thousands of protesters converged from all directions on Sudan’s army headquarters Thursday after calls for a “million-strong” demonstration to demand the ruling military council cede power. The day after three council members resigned following talks with protest organizers, demonstrators flocked toward the central Khartoum site Thursday evening, beating drums and singing revolutionary songs, said an AFP journalist at the scene. “We want the military council out. We want a civilian government,” said protester Adam Ahmed, a medical student. The rally came after Sudan’s new military rulers and protest leaders agreed to set up a joint committee, to chart the way forward two weeks after the ouster of veteran president Omar Al-Bashir. The Alliance for Freedom and Change, an umbrella group leading the protests, had called for a million-strong march to “continue to protect our revolution and to ensure that all our demands are achieved.” Many of those rallying chanted “Blood for blood! We will not accept compensation!,” demanding punishment for officials responsible for killings during Bashir’s iron-fisted, three-decade rule. “All those responsible for the conflicts in Sudan should be tried and brought to justice,” said protester Ismail Jadallah. Also at the protest were dozens of judges, dressed in their robes, who had marched from the constitutional court, an AFP photographer said. “We are here to give a message that the judiciary should be independent without any political intervention,” a judge told journalists. But protesters expressed anger at the judges when they arrived at the demonstration, an AFP photographer said. “Leave, Leave!” protesters shouted, blaming the judges for pro-regime verdicts during Bashir’s rule. An AFP photographer in downtown Khartoum said crowds of protesters had gathered earlier outside Egypt’s embassy and consulate, which were surrounded by riot police. Several people held banners calling on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi not to “interfere in our affairs,” after Cairo hosted a summit of African leaders who said more time was needed for a transition to civilian rule in Sudan. Across the city, demonstrators arrived at the army headquarters from the states of Jazeera, White Nile and also from Bashir’s hometown Shendi, boosting the ranks of those already camped at the site, many of them for the past several weeks. The giant rally followed a late-night meeting between the military council and leaders of the protest movement’s umbrella group. “We have an agreement on most demands presented in the document of the Alliance for Freedom and Change,” Lt. Gen. Shamseddine Kabbashi, spokesman of the military council, told reporters afterwards. He did not elaborate on the key demand of handing power to a civilian government, but said there “were no big disputes.” The Sudanese Professionals Association, which initially spearheaded months of protests against Bashir, described the meeting as a step toward “confidence-building.” “Both sides agreed on the importance of joint cooperation to steer the country toward peace and stability,” the SPA said Thursday. Writing on Twitter, the association said a “joint committee” was being set up to “discuss outstanding disputes” as part of efforts to reach a “comprehensive agreement.” On Thursday, activist Ahmed Najdi said he was expecting “a joint military-civilian sovereign council, which I think is the middle path and most protesters would agree to that.” He said he would participate in the demonstration throughout the night. “More crowds are expected in the evening. We will continue our sit-in through the night, tomorrow and up until we achieve our demands,” Najdi told AFP. Wednesday’s meeting was followed by the military council announcing three members of the ruling body had stepped down after demands from protesters. The United States has backed protesters’ demands. State Department official Makila James said Tuesday that Washington supports “the legitimate demand of the people of Sudan for a civilian-led government” and urged all parties to work together to that end. Siddiq Farouk, a protest leader, said demonstrators were preparing for a general strike if the military council continues to refuse to hand over power. The council, led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan since his predecessor quit after barely 24 hours in the post, says it has assumed power for a two-year transitional period. Protesters have flocked to Khartoum from across the country, including on a packed train Tuesday which rolled in from Atbara, where protests began on December 19 against a decision by Bashir’s government to triple bread prices. They swiftly turned into nationwide rallies against his rule and that of the military council that took his place. Protester Hayam Kamal said she had returned from the Gulf to take part in the protest. “I have been living in Saudi Arabia all my life,” she told AFP. “I returned to call for our freedom and better living conditions so that I can come back and live here.”


Displaced by conflict, Libyan students fear for their future

Updated 24 May 2019
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Displaced by conflict, Libyan students fear for their future

  • “We’ve fallen behind... and I don’t even know where we will sit our final exams..." one high school student said
  • More than 75,000 people have been driven from their homes in the latest fighting

TRIPOLI: The fight for control of Libya’s capital is depriving tens of thousands of pupils of their education, with high school students displaced by the violence fretting about their future.
“We’ve fallen behind... and I don’t even know where we will sit our final exams or how they will calculate my grades,” said Mayar Mostafa, a teenager in her last year of high school.
Mostafa said the fighting has forced her and her family to flee their home in a southern Tripoli suburb, while her school has shut its doors.
All this has left her “psychologically stressed out,” she lamented.
Mostafa is among those who are living in limbo — not knowing when they will be able to resume their studies to salvage the school year, or when life as a whole might return to normal.
On April 4, strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli and unseat the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
More than 75,000 people have been driven from their homes in the latest fighting and 510 have been killed, according to the World Health Organization.
More than 2,400 have also been wounded, while 100,000 people are feared trapped by the clashes raging on the capital’s outskirts.
Fighting between Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army and forces loyal to the GNA continues to rage south of Tripoli, and the UN envoy has warned of a “long and bloody war.”
Mostafa remembers the day the fighting erupted, saying she was woken by “the deafening sound of machine-gun fire and cannons.”
“We had to flee our home in the midst of a decisive school year,” she said.
“I was planning to go to university next year... Now I don’t know my fate.”
According to the UN’s agency for children, UNICEF, the fighting is “directly affecting some 122,088 children.”
“The academic year has been suspended in all schools in conflict-affected areas, and seven schools are currently sheltering displaced families,” UNICEF said last month.
It noted that an “attack on an education warehouse destroyed 5 million schoolbooks and national school exam results” in April.
In many schools classes are suspended because teachers have been trapped by fighting and are unable to reach work.
According to Rachad Bader, the head of a crisis cell set up by the Libya’s education ministry, “most schools in Tripoli have remained open,” despite the violence.
“But that is not the case for schools in Ain Zara and Abou Slim” in the southern suburbs of the capital, he said.
These “are the areas hardest hit by the military operations,” Bader added.
“I hope that the fighting will stop soon, otherwise we will have to look for alternatives for displaced children so that they won’t have to loose their school year,” he said.
The education ministry has given time off to teachers and students for the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which began on May 6, hoping that by the end of that period fighting will have abated.
Meanwhile, in areas of Tripoli spared by the conflict, teachers have banded together to give free remedial classes during Ramadan to students displaced by the violence.
“It is generous on their part, knowing that they have sacrificed their Ramadan holiday to help us catch up,” said Mostafa, who along with 25 other students is taking maths classes.
“We are really grateful for their help in such difficult times,” she said.
But she is still afraid that she will not get good grades in her final exams.
English teacher Gofran Ben Ayad says the impromptu teaching initiative is key for the students.
“What is remarkable is that most of these students are brilliant and have shown that despite the psychological trauma they have suffered and their forced displacement, they are still able to learn,” she said.
Ahmad Bashir said he found out about the catch-up lessons through the Internet and “didn’t waste time” in registering for classes.
“My high school — the Khaled Ben Al-Walid in Ain Zara — has been closed for six weeks, and this is a decisive year,” he said.
“I don’t know what my future will be like after this war,” added Bashir, who like Mostafa is in his last year of high school.
He hopes the education ministry “will be understanding” in the timing of end-of-year exams, and take into account the plight of displaced students.