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.

Amid turmoil, Lebanese Forces ministers quit coalition government

Updated 20 October 2019

Amid turmoil, Lebanese Forces ministers quit coalition government

  • The Lebanese Forces party has four ministers in the Hariri-led ruling coalition
  • Protesters in Beirut, Jounieh, Tripoli and Tyre demand that others remaining in power also quit

BEIRUT: Lebanon's "strong republic" bloc quit the coalition government on Saturday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets for a third day of protests against tax increases and alleged official corruption.
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese forces party, said his group was resigning from the government ahead of the 72-hour deadline that Prime Minister Saad Hariri gave to partners in power to help make his reform programs work.
Geagea's Christian party has four ministers in the coalition government, namely: Ghassan Hasbani, Kamil Abu Suleiman, Richard Qayomjian and May Chidiac.
"Since people have lost confidence in the political class, and since the people in the street represent all segments of society and because all components of the government does not want serious and actual reform, we were the first party to act with transparency and when discussing the 2020 budget, we demanded a basket of immediate reforms, but we did not feel the seriousness required," Geagea told a late night press conference that extended into the early hours of Sunday.
“We are now convinced that the government is unable to take the necessary steps to save the situation,” said Geagea. “Therefore, the bloc decided to ask its ministers to resign from the government.”
He denied "any talk of an agreement with Prime Minister Hariri regarding the resignation of ministers."
Geagea's announcement was welcomed by the protesters, who are still sit in yards in Beirut, Jounieh, Tripoli and Tyre. They demanded the resignation of the remaining in power.

'Sweeping overhaul needed'
The protesters took to the streets despite calls for calm from politicians and dozens of arrests on Friday. Many waved billowing Lebanese flags and insisted the protests should remain peaceful and non-sectarian.
The demonstrators are demanding a sweeping overhaul of Lebanon’s political system, citing grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.
They have blocked main roads and threatened to topple the country’s fragile coalition government.
Most Lebanese politicians have uncharacteristically admitted the demonstrations are spontaneous, rather than blaming outside influences.
Demonstrators in Beirut celebrated the news of the coalition party’s resignation, calling on other blocs to leave the government. In Tripoli, they let off fireworks.
“I am thinking maybe it’s better all the government resign,” said one protester, 24-year-old Ali. “I am thinking maybe it’s better to go to another election as people already woke up.”
The army on Saturday called on protesters to “express themselves peacefully without harming public and private property.”
Saturday evening, thousands were packed for a third straight night into the Riyadh Al-Solh Square in central Beirut, despite security forces having used tear gas and water cannons to disperse similar crowds a day before.

AI slams 'use of excessive force'
Amnesty International said the security forces’ reaction was excessive, pointing out that the vast majority of protesters were peaceful.
“The intention was clearly to prevent protesters gathering — in a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly,” it said.
Small groups of protesters have also damaged shop fronts and blocked roads by burning tires and other obstacles.
The Internal Security Forces said 70 arrests were made Friday on accusations of theft and arson.
But all of those held at the main police barracks were released Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said.
The demonstrations first erupted on Thursday, sparked by a proposed 20 US-cent tax on calls via messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
Such calls are the main method of communication for many Lebanese and, despite the government’s swift abandonment of the tax, the demonstrations quickly swelled into the largest in years.
Prime Minister Hariri has given his deeply divided coalition until Monday evening to give back a reform package aimed at shoring up the government’s finances and securing desperately needed economic assistance from donors.
He held a series of meetings Saturday regarding the situation, NNA said.
Hariri’s political rival, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, told protesters Saturday their “message was heard loudly.”
But he warned against demanding the resignation of the government — saying it could take a long time to form a new one and solve the crisis.
The current unity government has the backing of most Lebanese political parties, including Hezbollah.

Protesters attacked in Tyre
In the southern port city of Tyre, supporters of Shia politician and speaker of parliament Nabih Berri attacked protesters Saturday, a witness said, a day after demonstrators had accused him of corruption.
His Amal political party condemned the attack and called for an investigation.
More than a quarter of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Many of the country’s senior politicians came to prominence during the country’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990.
The promised austerity moves are essential if Lebanon is to unlock $11 billion in economic assistance pledged by international donors last year.
Growth has plummeted in recent years, with political deadlock compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — more than 150 percent of gross domestic product — according to the finance ministry.

(With AFP)