Sudan protesters rally outside army HQ for first time

Thousands of people marched towards Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir's residence and the defence ministry in central Khartoum on April 6, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 April 2019

Sudan protesters rally outside army HQ for first time

  • The Sudanese Professionals Association has been spearheading anti-government protests that erupted in December
  • Saturday's marches come on the 34th anniversary of the overthrow of President Jaafar Al-Nimeiri in a bloodless coup

KHARTOUM: Thousands of Sudanese demonstrators marched in Khartoum Saturday, many reaching the army headquarters for the first time since deadly protests against President Omar Al-Bashir erupted last year, witnesses said.
Chanting "One Army, One People," the protesters rallied in the capital's streets following a call by organisers to march on the compound, which also includes Bashir's residence.
The crowds chanted the movement's catchcry "peace, justice, freedom" as they marched towards the complex where the defence ministry is also based, onlookers said.
"They were also calling on Bashir to step down," a witness said.
Taking a break from shouting anti-government slogans, protester Ghada Mohamed said the rally signalled a "bright future" for Sudan.
Protester Amir Omer said the demonstrators had managed to send a message to the military.
"We still haven't achieved our goal, but we have delivered our message to the army and that is: come join us," he told AFP.
Protest organisers led by the Sudanese Professionals Association said earlier this week that demonstrators would march Saturday to demand the army either "take the side of the people or the dictator's".
Soon after reaching the compound, organisers called on the protesters to hold in place outside its fortified walls.
"At this historic moment, we ask you to not leave the army headquarters and hold a sit-in in the nearby streets," the organisers said in a statement.
"We appreciate that the army did not touch the protesters and we hope that it will take the side of the people."
Since the protests erupted, security agents and riot police have cracked down on demonstrators but the army has not intervened.
In a separate demonstration Saturday, protesters reached the army office in the town of Madani southeast of the capital, witnesses told AFP by telephone.
Protests have rocked the east African country since December, with angry crowds accusing Bashir's government of mismanaging the economy that has led to soaring food prices and regular shortages of fuel and foreign currency.
Demonstrations first erupted on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.
But they quickly escalated into nationwide rallies against Bashir's rule, with protestors calling on him to step down.
On February 22, the veteran leader imposed a nationwide state of emergency to quell the protests after an initial crackdown failed to rein in protesters.
Since emergency rule came into effect, the demonstrations have been largely confined to the capital and its twin city of Omdurman, but organisers had called for widespread rallies and a march on the army headquarters on Saturday.

April 6 was chosen for the nationwide rallies as it was the day of a 1985 uprising that toppled the then regime of president Jaafar Nimeiri.
Before the protests began, security forces deployed in large numbers in key Khartoum squares and in Omdurman, across the Nile.
"There's a heavy security deployment where the protesters were to gather for the march, but they still came out and are chanting anti-government slogans," a witness told AFP without revealing his name for security reasons.
Security agents were preventing passers-by from reaching downtown areas and ordered shops and markets in the area closed, witnesses said.
"Those walking in groups were immediately detained or asked to return to their homes by security forces," another onlooker said.
Activists in recent days have been circulating leaflets urging residents to participate in Saturday's march, residents said.
The protest movement was initially led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, but later several political parties including the main opposition National Umma Party threw their support behind it.
Analysts say the movement has emerged as the biggest challenge yet to Bashir's three-decade rule.
But the veteran leader has remained defiant, introducing tough measures that have seen protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists arrested.
Officials say 31 people have been killed in protest related violence so far, but Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51 including children and medics.


Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

Updated 28 min 9 sec ago

Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

  • On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2
  • New elections would add to the political challenges facing Benjamin Netanyahu
JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament began rushing through a bill on Wednesday to call a third general election within a year as talks between embattled premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival broke down ahead of a midnight deadline.
A deal to avert a new election must be reached before 11:59 p.m. (2159 GMT), following a deadlocked vote in September.
But Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz, both of whom have repeatedly failed to build a governing majority in the Knesset, or parliament, have spent days trading blame for failing coalition talks.
On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2.
It must face three more plenary readings and votes during the day before being passed.
New elections would add to the political challenges facing Netanyahu — Israel’s longest serving premier, now governing in a caretaker capacity — at a time when, weakened by corruption charges, he must fend off internal challengers in his right-wing Likud party.
Netanyahu and Gantz, a former armed forces chief who heads the centrist Blue and White party, had been discussing a potential unity government, but disagreed on who should lead it.
Last month, when Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges, Gantz called on him to step down.
On Tuesday night Netanyahu called on Gantz to stop “spinning.”
“After 80 days, it’s time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government. It’s not too late,” he said on social media.
Gantz said his party was making “efforts to find a way to form a government without us giving up the fundamental principles that brought us into politics.”
If confirmed, it would be the first time Israel’s weary electorate has been asked to go to the polls for a third time within 12 months.
The parties of Netanyahu and Gantz were nearly deadlocked in September’s election, following a similarly inconclusive poll in April.
Israel’s proportional system is reliant on coalition building, and both parties fell well short of the 61 seats needed to command a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Both were then given 28-day periods to try and forge a workable coalition but failed, forcing President Reuven Rivlin to turn to parliament with his deadline for Wednesday.
New elections are deeply unpopular with the Israeli public, which has expressed mounting anger and frustration with the entire political class.
Both parties had been trying to convince Avigdor Lieberman, a crucial kingmaker, to join their blocs.
But the former nightclub bouncer, whose secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party holds the balance of power, has refused.
Kann Radio reported Tuesday that Netanyahu had abandoned hopes of earning Lieberman’s endorsement.
Lieberman pointed out that Likud and Blue and White wouldn’t need his support if they could agree to work together.
“If during the next 24 hours a government is not formed it will be solely because the leaders of the two big parties — Likud and Blue and White — were not willing to set aside their egos,” he said on Facebook Tuesday.
“All the rest is lies and excuses.”
Netanyahu was indicted last month for bribery, breach of trust and fraud relating to three separate corruption cases.
He strongly denies the allegations and accuses the media, police and prosecution of a witch-hunt.
No date has yet been set for the beginning of the proceedings and, under Israeli law, Netanyahu can remain in office despite an indictment.
He also faces a potential challenge from within his own Likud party.
To boost his support, Netanyahu has pushed his plan to annex a strategic part of the occupied West Bank, as well as signing a defense treaty with the United States.
He is a close ally of US President Donald Trump, who has taken a number of controversial steps in support of Netanyahu’s agenda.
Blue and White, meanwhile, pledged Monday to run with only one leader in the next election — Gantz.
Previously Yair Lapid, second in command in the coalition, was meant to alternate the premiership, but on Monday Lapid said: “We’ll all get behind Benny Gantz, our candidate for prime minister.”
Despite Netanyahu’s indictment, polls suggest that a third round of elections could still be neck and neck — prompting some Israelis to speculate about yet another electoral stalemate.
A commentary writer for the Israel Hayom newspaper suggested that “a fourth election is even now visible on the horizon sometime in early September 2020.”