Sudan launches probe into protesters’ deaths

A Sudanese protester draped in her country’s national flag chants slogans during a protest in the capital Khartoum. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2019

Sudan launches probe into protesters’ deaths

  • The violence signaled a crackdown across Sudan that led to a breakdown in talks between the protesters and the ruling generals

CAIRO: Sudan’s newly appointed prime minister has launched an independent investigation into June’s deadly crackdown on protesters that killed dozens of people and threatened to crush the country’s pro-democracy uprising.

Protest leaders had demanded the establishment of an international inquiry as part of a subsequent power-sharing agreement with the military, but the generals insisted on a Sudanese-led probe.

According to the protesters, at least 128 people were killed and hundreds wounded when security forces violently dispersed the protesters’ main sit-in outside the military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, on June 3. Authorities put the death toll at 87, including 17 inside the sit-in area.

The violence signaled a crackdown across Sudan that led to a breakdown in talks between the protesters and the ruling generals, who ousted leader President Omar Al-Bashir in April amid nationwide protests against his nearly 30-year rule.

Sudan’s new civilian leader, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, said late on Saturday the investigation will be led by a seven-member committee that includes a top judge, an independent figure and two attorneys. The justice, defense and interior ministries will also be represented on the committee.

The probe, which should conclude its work within six months, could seek support from the African Union if needed, said Hamdok, who was headed to New York to attend the UN meetings.

An investigation by Sudanese prosecutors in July said the ruling generals did not order the deadly break-up, but blamed the widely condemned dispersal on paramilitary forces who exceeded their orders.

Prosecutor Fathel-Rahman Said said at the time that security forces were told only to clear a lawless area close to the protest camp, not the sit-in itself.

In the days leading up to the dispersal, the military said the lawless area near the camp had become a haven for “drug dealers and other criminals.”

Troops from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces however moved to disperse the protest camp on their own initiative, Said added.

He said eight RSF officers, including a major general, have been accused of crimes against humanity. He did not elaborate on how the investigation would proceed against the accused officers.


Fifteen years later, Arafat is sorely missed

Updated 12 November 2019

Fifteen years later, Arafat is sorely missed

  • When Arafat passed away, an airport funeral procession was held in Paris and Cairo while the body was flown by a Jordanian military helicopter to Ramallah
  • While Palestinians look forward to a new generation of leaders, questions continue to dog the Palestinian leadership as to the circumstances behind Arafat’s untimely death

AMMAN: For Rauhi Fatouh, the memories of Yaser Arafat’s last days are as vivid as they were yesterday. 

Fatouh, a Gazan leader who belongs to Arafat’s Fatah movement, was the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council on Oct. 12, 2004 when president Arafat suddenly became sick while holed up at the Muqata headquarters in Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks.

Fatouh recalls going with the ailing Arafat to a French military hospital outside Paris along with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and Ahmad Kurei (Abu Alaa) and a special visitor came by. “We were visited by French President Jacque Chirac who talked about the issue of transition and asked me to follow the Palestinian basic law so that there would be a smooth transition,” Fatouh told Arab News.

Article 37 of the Palestinian law stipulates that if the president of the Palestinian Authority is unable to carry on his duties, the speaker of the Legislative Council will take over for a 60-day transitional period, after which new elections are supposed to take place. 

“We were hoping that this would not happen but everyone including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Yemen’s Abdallah Saleh kept on calling us wanting to be sure that the transition will take place without any obstacles and if it is possible to hold the funeral outside of Palestine so that they can attend.”

When Arafat passed away, an airport funeral procession was held in Paris and Cairo while the body was flown by a Jordanian military helicopter to Ramallah. Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, and Foreign Minister Suleiman Abu Ghaith came to Ramallah to attend the funeral.

Fatouh recalls the following sequence of events: “Abbas was elected as chairman of the executive committee and I was sworn in as acting president, as per the Palestinian Basic Law in front of the Legislative Council and the senior court judges. Everything concerning the transition took place in an orderly fashion,” he said noting that he resisted various attempts by people close to him to skip the idea of having presidential elections and stay in power.

One of the first orders of business for the acting president was to respond to the hundreds of letters, requests and laws that were unanswered. “I had to deal with thousands of documents, I vowed not to refuse any request for help from Palestinians needy medical or educational help, but sometimes we had to reduce the amount.”

On his third day in office, Fatouh signed a decree allowing for presidential elections to take place exactly 60 days later. “While some wanted to have simultaneous presidential and legislative elections, I decided to only have presidential elections to fill Arafat’s seat and that took place on Jan. 9, 2005.” Mahmoud Abbas won the presidential elections defeating independent medical doctor Mustafa Barghouti with 72 percent of the vote.

Najeeb Qadoumi, a member of the Palestine National and Central Councils, told Arab News that the absence of Arafat has left a vacuum in Palestinian political life. “We are sad on this occasion because we feel lonely. Arafat was able to move the Palestinian cause from a humanitarian and refugee cause to one of a revolution, a flag, national identity and statehood. Today, whenever you meet anyone and say you are Palestinian, they will mention Arafat’s name.”

While Palestinians look forward to a new generation of leaders, questions continue to dog the Palestinian leadership as to the circumstances behind Arafat’s untimely death. Hamdi Farraj, a left-wing writer from Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp, told Arab News that the mystery must be solved. Palestinian officials, including Arafat’s nephew Nasser Kidwa, insist that Arafat was poisoned, possibly with orders from former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with help from someone close to the late president. “We are further saddened by the fact that the killer of Arafat is still free, eating our food and breathing our air,” Farraj said.

Palestinians are expecting to have legislative elections early in 2020 followed within three months by presidential elections. Abbas has said previously that he has no plans to run again, but Fatah strongman Hussein Sheikh has said publicly that Abbas remains the party’s only candidate. Fatah Secretary Jibril Rajoub, seen by many as the strongest Fatah candidate, has said on Palestine TV that Abbas should be the “wise leader” of the Palestinian people and should give room to others to take his place.

Some analyst also expect Fatah deputy Mahmoud Alloul to be a candidate along with current Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. Renegade Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan, living in exile in the UAE, has a significant following and is expected to run for office if elections take place. Other possible candidates include Hamas’s leader Ismael Haniyeh and former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as an independent.