Sudan protesters vow to press on after talks suspended

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Sudanese protesters chant slogans and wave placards during a demonstration in Khartoum on May 14, 2019. (AFP)
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Sudanese protesters chant slogans and wave placards during a demonstration in Khartoum on May 14, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2019

Sudan protesters vow to press on after talks suspended

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protesters voiced regret Thursday at an army decision to suspend crucial talks on installing civilian rule but vowed to press on with a sit-in despite being targeted in fresh violence.
Army generals and protest leaders had been expected to come to an agreement on Wednesday over the make-up of a new body to govern Sudan for three years.
The issue is the thorniest to have come up in ongoing talks on reinstating civilian rule after the generals took over following the ouster of longtime autocratic president Omar Al-Bashir last month.
But in the early hours of Thursday, the chief of Sudan’s ruling military council, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, announced the talks had been suspended for 72 hours as security in Khartoum had deteriorated.
He demanded that protesters dismantle roadblocks in Khartoum, open bridges and railway lines connecting the capital and “stop provoking security forces.”
The Alliance for Freedom and Change, the group leading the protest movement and negotiating the transfer of power with the army rulers, called the move “regrettable.”
“It ignores the developments achieved in negotiations so far... and the fact that Wednesday’s meeting was to finalize the agreement, which would have stopped the escalations such as roadblocks.”
The protest movement vowed to press on with the sit-in and called on its supporters to launch rallies heading to the protest camp later on Thursday after breaking the Ramadan fast.
Protesters said the army was trying to provoke them.
“They want to provoke the people by delaying the negotiations... but the negotiations will resume now that the roadblocks have been removed,” said Moatassim Sayid, a protester at the sit-in.
On Thursday morning, several roadblocks in downtown Khartoum had been taken down, an AFP correspondent reported, adding that troops from the paramilitary Rapid Support Force (RSF) were deployed in some areas.
Roadblocks on key thoroughfares are being used by demonstrators to pressure the generals to transfer power to a civilian administration.
The talks began on Monday and achieved significant breakthroughs, but have also been marred by violence that left five protesters and an army major dead and many wounded from gunshots.
Protesters allege that members of RSF were behind the violence.
But Burhan said there were “armed elements among demonstrators who were shooting at security forces.”
He defended the paramilitary group, saying “it had taken the side of the people” during the uprising that toppled Bashir on April 11.
The British ambassador to Khartoum said Sudanese security forces had fired at protesters on Wednesday when eight were reported wounded near the sit-in, where thousands remain camped demanding the generals step down.
“Extremely concerned by use of live ammunition by Sudanese security forces against protesters in Khartoum today, with reports of civilian casualties,” Irfan Siddiq wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
Washington blamed the generals for the bloodshed that left six dead on Monday.
“The tragic attacks on protesters... were clearly the result of the Transitional Military Council trying to impose its will on the protesters by attempting to remove roadblocks,” the US embassy said.
The French foreign ministry urged the two sides to resume the dialogue “to establish a transitional civilian government” and to “preserve the peaceful nature of the transition.”
The protest movement said the generals wanted the demonstrators to restrict themselves to the sit-in area.
Protesters are demanding a civilian-led transition, which the generals have steadfastly resisted since bowing to their demands and toppling Bashir.
During the first two days of talks the two sides had agreed on an overall civilian structure, including a three-year period for the full transfer of power to a civilian administration.
They had also agreed that parliament be composed of 300 members for the transition, with around two-thirds from the alliance and the rest drawn from other political groups.
The make-up of the new sovereign council has been the toughest part of the negotiations, with the two sides so far proposing different compositions of the body which is expected to take all key decisions concerning national issues.
The generals want it to be military-led, while the protesters insist on a majority civilian body.
General Yasser Al-Atta, one of the members of the current ruling military council, had vowed earlier this week to reach a deal by Thursday that “meets the people’s aspirations.”
The new council is expected to form a transitional civilian government, which would then prepare for the first post-Bashir election after the three-year changeover period ends.


US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

Updated 19 min 8 sec ago

US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

  • Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast
  • The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years

WASHINGTON: About four years before the Beirut port explosion that killed dozens of people and injured thousands, a US government contractor expressed concern to a Lebanese port official about unsafe storage there of the volatile chemicals that fueled last week’s devastating blast, American officials said Tuesday.
There is no indication the contractor communicated his concerns to anyone in the US government.
His assessment was noted briefly in a four-page State Department cable first reported by The New York Times.
The cable, labeled sensitive but unclassified, dealt largely with the Lebanese responses to the blast and the origins and disposition of the ammonium nitrate, which ignited to create an enormous explosion. But it also noted that after the Aug. 4 explosion, a person who had advised the Lebanese navy under a US Army contract from 2013 to 2016 told the State Department that he had “conducted a port facility inspection on security measures during which he reported to port officials on the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate.”
Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast, officials said.
The contractor, who was not identified by name and is now a State Department employee based in Ukraine, was in Lebanon to provide instruction to members of the Lebanese navy. While there, he made a brief, impromptu inspection of physical security at the facility in 2015 or 2016 at the request of a port official, US officials said. The contractor was not identified.
The contractor, who has a background in port and maritime security, noted weaknesses in security camera coverage and other aspects of port management but was not assessing safety issues, according to the US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a planned public statement.
While inside the warehouse where ammonium nitrate was stored, the contractor saw problems such as poor ventilation and inadequate physical security, which he noted to the port official accompanying him, the officials said. It is unclear whether the port official reported this concern to his superiors.
The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years, apparently with the knowledge of top political and security officials. The catastrophic explosion one week ago Tuesday killed at least 171 peoples and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis.
The contractor was working for the US Army’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He provided instruction to members of the Lebanese armed forces in naval vessel traffic systems and small boat operations. His class was visiting the Beirut port as part of that instruction program when the port official asked him for the inspection, which US officials said lasted about 45 minutes.
The United States has a close security relationship with Lebanon. According to the State Department, the US government has provided Lebanon with more than $1.7 billion in security assistance since 2006. The assistance is designed to support the Lebanese armed forces’ ability to secure the country’s borders, counter internal threats, and defend national territory.
Last September a US Navy ship, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, visited Beirut. It was the first time in 36 years an American warship had made a port visit there, according to the US military at the time.