Sudan must unite armed forces during political crisis: Former PM

Sadik Al-Mahdi, who heads the Umma party, speaks during a news conference at his group headquarters, in Khartoum, Sudan, on June 26, 2019. (AP)
Updated 01 July 2019

Sudan must unite armed forces during political crisis: Former PM

  • Key opposition figure urges reconciliation as death toll from clashes at mass demonstrations climbs to 11

KHARTOUM: Sudan must at all costs avoid tensions between a powerful paramilitary unit that controls Khartoum and the regular army or risk more instability following a military coup in April, leading opposition figure Sadiq Al-Mahdi said.

An influential former prime minister, Al-Mahdi called on high-profile military leader Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, to fully integrate the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) which he commands with the regular army to promote unity within the armed forces.

“The fact that there are tensions between our armed groups must be resolved peacefully,” Al-Mahdi, Sudan’s last democratically elected premier, said in an interview.

“Either people fight it out, which would be very bad for Sudan, or they accept a reconciliation process,” said Al-Mahdi, who heads the largest opposition party.

“All our political forces are going to have their minds concentrated on the need to avoid this civil war and all types of conflicts that are potentially there.”

Sudanese activists said at least 11 people were killed in clashes with security forces during mass demonstrations demanding a transition to civilian rule.

Tens of thousands of Sudanese flooded the streets of Khartoum, and other areas on Sunday in the biggest protests since security forces cleared a sit-in last month. 

They called for the military to hand over power to civilians following the coup that ousted Bashir in April.

Nazim Sirraj, a prominent activist, said three bodies were found next to a school in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum. 

The three were shot dead in an area where security forces had barred protesters from marching toward a hospital and had fired tear gas to disperse them, he said. 

One wounded person died on the way to the hospital in Khartoum, he added.

Sirraj said the total death toll was 11, including one killed in the city of Atbara, a railway hub north of Khartoum and the birthplace of the December uprising that eventually led to Bashir’s ouster.

Speaking at his sprawling villa surrounded by gardens in the capital, Al-Mahdi also said the opposition had floated the idea of merging the forces to the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which has been in charge since President Omar Bashir was overthrown following protests triggered by an economic crisis.

There are no signs that a conflict is looming between the RSF and the military. And there are no apparent divisions between Hemedti, deputy head of the TMC, and its leader Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.

But Al-Mahdi, himself toppled by Bashir in 1989, said Sudan cannot afford to take any chances during a turbulent period.

“All our minds will be concentrated on avoiding this catastrophic development which is very much on the horizon.”

The military has more firepower but taking on the RSF in the capital would inflict mass civilian casualties, say politicians, analysts and opposition figures.

Al-Mahdi’s moderate Islamic Umma party is among opposition groups who have been pressing for a transition to civilian rule in talks with the TMC that ground to a halt last month.

Hemedti has indicated he has political ambitions, delivering frequent public speeches, and promising a brighter future for Sudanese, from the same palace occupied by Bashir.

“If he looks ahead to a leadership role it will be acceptable if he becomes a civilian citizen, and if he then either forms his own party or joins whatever party he thinks is closer to his ideas,” said Al-Mahdi.

Bashir used Hemedti and his men, now deployed across Khartoum armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns mounted on vehicles, to counter perceived threats from rivals under a strategy that helped him stay in power for 30 years.

“We believe he (Hemedti) must accept now that this (integration of the RSF and army) should be developed. 

His force will be part and parcel of a national defense force,” said Mahdi. This should be done “in a way that will be voluntary with the armed forces.”

Al-Mahdi said chances of reconciliation could be improved by an independent investigation of violence three weeks ago in which witnesses said the RSF led a raid on a protest camp. Opposition medics reported more than 100 people killed. The government put the death toll at 61, including three security personnel.


Lebanese govt approves plan to fly home expats trapped abroad by virus

A general view of the northern Lebanese coastal city of Tripoli. Lebanon has taken strict measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease. (AFP)
Updated 53 min 14 sec ago

Lebanese govt approves plan to fly home expats trapped abroad by virus

  • Ministers agree on the repatriation initiative as Lebanon records 17 new cases of infection

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Cabinet on Tuesday approved plans for special flights to bring home expatriates trapped abroad by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
Ministers agreed the repatriation initiative as Lebanon recorded 17 new cases of infection, taking the total to 463. One COVID-19 patient in his 40s with underlying health issues was reported to have died. Twelve people in the country have now lost their lives after contracting the virus.
During the Cabinet session, proposals were passed to “repatriate Lebanese expatriates wishing to leave their countries of residence due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This would allow an exceptional opening of the airport for Middle East Airlines (MEA) flights to organize the repatriation process.”
The flights will take place as soon as medics have received newly ordered COVID-19 test kits which will allow them to check if returnees have been infected.
The Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently finding out how many individuals want to return to Lebanon at their own expense.
With Lebanon now into the third week of restrictions on movement to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, reports were emerging of shops reopening and traffic returning to the streets in regions outside of the capital Beirut.
In the northern city of Tripoli there were demonstrations outside the office of the Tripoli and north mufti, Sheikh Malek Al-Shaar, against the deterioration of living conditions. Protesters waved banners stating, “people are hungry but are not begging.”
With many businesses closed and people forced to stay at home under government orders, some Lebanese have found other methods of making money.
Omar Hijazi, the owner of a large sanitaryware store in Beirut, set up a vegetable stall in front of his shop after being told to shut. He told Arab News that he needed to provide food for his family and had “to pay for loans, rent, and expenses to support his little child.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• During the Cabinet session, proposals were passed to ‘repatriate Lebanese expatriates wishing to leave their countries of residence due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This would allow an exceptional opening of the airport for Middle East Airlines (MEA) flights to organize the repatriation process.’

• The flights will take place as soon as medics have received newly ordered COVID-19 test kits which will allow them to check if returnees have been infected.

He said Lebanese security forces had imposed measures on him to allow him to sell the vegetables which included covering and sterilizing them.
“The merchandise in my store is worth $100,000, yet by the end of the month I am not able to pay $100. Two days ago, I started selling vegetables, which is not my profession. I am totally devastated yet selling vegetables will procure food and beverages for my family until the crisis is over,” he added.
However, many people in Lebanon have been supporting health workers, with TV campaigns seeing generous donations for Rafik Hariri University Hospital’s medical and nursing teams, and also toward the Lebanese Red Cross. Municipalities, and political and public figures have also been working to distribute aid to families in need.
However, the Consumer Protection Association warned that poor people in the country could soon have no choice but to leave their homes to make money regardless of the dangers of contracting COVID-19.
Association head, Dr. Zuhair Berro, said: “The poor do not care about the coronavirus. They are more concerned with their livelihood. We are witnessing a deterioration in living standards.”