Sudan talks enter day two as key issue still unresolved

Sudanese protesters chant slogans demanding civilian rule on June 29, 2019 at the end of a rally in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman in which the chief of the military council delivered a speech. (AFP)
Updated 04 July 2019

Sudan talks enter day two as key issue still unresolved

  • Talks finally resumed Wednesday after intense mediation by Ethiopian and African Union envoys, who have put forward a draft proposal to break the deadlock
  • Tensions further surged between the generals and protest leaders after a deadly pre-dawn raid on a longstanding protest camp in Khartoum on June 3 killed dozens of demonstrators and wounded hundreds

KHARTOUM: Talks between Sudan’s ruling generals and protest leaders, held after weeks of standoff following a deadly crackdown on protesters, enter a second day Thursday with the key issue of forming a new governing body still unresolved.
Sudan has been rocked by a political crisis since the army ousted longtime ruler Omar Al-Bashir in April on the back of widespread protests, with the ruling generals resisting demonstrators’ demands to hand power to a civilian administration.
The generals had previously agreed over a broad civilian structure, but talks between the two sides collapsed in May following a disagreement over who should lead an overall new governing body — a civilian or a soldier.
Tensions further surged between the generals and protest leaders after a deadly pre-dawn raid on a longstanding protest camp in Khartoum on June 3 killed dozens of demonstrators and wounded hundreds.
Talks finally resumed Wednesday after intense mediation by Ethiopian and African Union envoys, who have put forward a draft proposal to break the deadlock.
The two sides were due to meet again on Thursday evening.
“The discussion will be about who heads the sovereign council,” a prominent protest leader who is part of the talks, Ahmed Al-Rabie, told AFP, referring to the governing body.
He said the ruling military council that took power after Bashir’s ouster insists the head of the new governing body be from the army.
“We believe that symbolically the head of the state must be a civilian,” Rabie said.
For weeks this issue has rocked Sudan, extending the political crisis triggered since the fall of Bashir.
The joint Ethiopian and African Union blueprint calls for a civilian-majority ruling body.
On Wednesday, the first day of the latest round of talks, the two sides did not discuss the crucial issue of the governing body.
“The parties conducted responsible negotiations and agreed on some issues,” African Union mediator Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt told reporters overnight after long hours of talks held at a luxury hotel in the capital.
“There’s a decision taken to release all political detainees.”
A group of 235 fighters from a faction of a Darfur rebel group that is part of the protest movement were released later on Thursday.
They were freed from Al-Huda prison in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum across the Nile river, an AFP correspondent reported, adding that many relatives had arrived to receive the fighters.
Protest leaders have exerted pressure on the generals since the June 3 raid on the mass sit-in outside army headquarters.
The raid was carried out by men in military fatigues.
The ruling military council insists it did not order the violent dispersal of the sit-in.
At least 136 people have been killed across the country since the raid, including more than 100 on June 3, according to doctors close to the umbrella protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change.
The health ministry says 78 people have been killed nationwide over the same period.
On Sunday, protest leaders managed to mobilize tens of thousands of supporters in the first mass protest against the generals since the raid.
The mass rally had been seen as a test for the protest leaders’ ability to mobilize crowds after the generals imposed a widespread Internet blackout and deployed security forces in the capital’s key squares and districts, its twin city Omdurman and other towns and villages.
Protest leaders have further upped the pressure on the generals by calling for a similar mass protest on July 13, to be followed by a nationwide civil disobedience campaign a day later.
The campaign, if observed, would be the second such agitation since the June 3 raid.
The first, held between June 9 and 11, paralyzed the country, hitting an already dilapidated economy hard.


Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

Updated 24 January 2020

Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

JERUSALEM: President Donald Trump said Thursday that he’ll likely release the long-awaited White House Mideast peace plan before his meeting early next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz.
“It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One en route to a Republican Party meeting in Florida.
He said he was surprised that both Netanyahu and Gantz were willing to take a break from campaigning for the March 2 elections to join him Tuesday in Washington.
“They both would like to do the deal. They want to see peace,” Trump said. “Look, Israel wants peace, Palestinians want peace. They all want peace. Not everyone wants to say it.”
He said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who have rejected the administration’s peace plan before it even comes out.
“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” Trump said. “And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them.”
Vice President Mike Pence announced the invitation for Netanyahu and Gantz to visit during at a meeting with the prime minister in Jerusalem after addressing an international forum Thursday on the Holocaust. He said that at Netanyahu’s request, the invitation was also issued to Gantz, a former army chief.
The plan is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state solution.
“We have had no better friend than President Trump,” Netanyahu said. “With this invitation, I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security that it deserves.”
The Palestinians rejected Trump’s peace efforts after he recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there in May 2018. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war and annexed, to be their capital.
“If this deal is announced with these rejected formulas, the leadership will announce a series of measures in which we safeguard our legitimate rights, and we will demand Israel assume its full responsibilities as an occupying power,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He appeared to be referring to oft-repeated threats to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. That would force Israel to resume responsibility for providing basic services to millions of Palestinians.
“We warn Israel and the US administration from crossing the red lines,” Abu Rdeneh said.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV, citing Israeli officials, said the plan is expected to be extremely favorable toward Israel and offer it control over large parts of the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians seek the entire territory, which was also captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future independent state. Most of the international community supports the Palestinian position.
Netanyahu has said he plans to annex the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish settlements across the West Bank, which would all but extinguish any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has tried to make that the cornerstone of his campaign for reelection following unprecedented back-to-back elections last year that left him in a virtual tie with Gantz, with neither able to cobble together a ruling coalition.
The deadlock was deepened by Netanyahu’s indictment last year on serious charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from three long-running corruption investigations. Netanyahu has asked Israel’s parliament to grant him immunity.
Next week’s meeting could produce an awkward scene. Gantz has made Netanyahu’s indictment the focus of his campaign to oust the prime minister. And his Blue and White party is leading an effort in parliament to block Netanyahu’s immunity request before the election. At the same time, they will be joined by an impeached president who is being tried in the Senate.
The US was believed to be holding back on releasing the peace plan until Israel had a permanent government. Those calculations may have changed as the deadlock in Israeli politics looks to be further prolonged.
Trump may also be looking for a boost from evangelical and pro-Israel supporters as the Senate weighs whether to remove him from office after he was impeached last month, and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.
Pence was among dozens of world leaders in Jerusalem on Thursday for the World Holocaust Forum. Many of the participants, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, also paid visits to the Palestinians in the West Bank.
A Palestinian official said Abbas asked the visiting French and Russian presidents to support the Palestinian position when the plan is published.
“He asked them to refuse and act against any Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing closed meetings.
While the plan is expected to be friendly to Israel, it could still face opposition from Netanyahu’s hard-line partners.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultranationalist Yamina party, called Trump a “true friend” of Israel and said the country likely stands before a “historic opportunity.” But he said his party would not allow the transfer of any land to Palestinian control or for a Palestinian state to be established.