June 11: Millions of people in Sudan have joined a general strike called by pro-reform groups, shutting down the centre of cities across the country despite a wave of arrests and intimidation. The civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing the ruling military junta to accept civilian rule entered a second day on Monday amidst reports of military killing at least 120 and detaining hundreds.
However, citing a leader in the alliance of protesters and opposition groups a Reuters report from Khartoum that appeared conflicting said Monday: The opposition may nominate eight members of a 15-member transitional council and name a prominent economist to head a government.
Media reports said:
During the massive shutdown aimed at relaunching an opposition movement and forcing military leaders to resign most businesses and shops were closed, and streets were empty throughout the capital, Khartoum, and in the neighboring Omdurman. At least five protesters were killed in sporadic violence in the two cities during the second day of protest.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a leading opposition group, said it had called on people to stay home in protest at the deaths of at least 120 people on Monday last week, when security forces violently dispersed a pro-democracy sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.
“The peaceful resistance by civil disobedience and the general political strike is the fastest and most effective way to topple the military council … and to hand over power to a transitional civilian authority,” the SPA said.
Residents said heavily armed paramilitaries from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were patrolling parts of Khartoum while the regular army was deployed in some parts of Omdurman.
The RSF, which is largely made up of militias accused of systemic human rights abuses during the war in Darfur, has been blamed for the killings last week. The force is led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo – known as Hemedti – who also serves as the deputy head of the military-led Transitional Military Council (TMC).
Professionals including bankers, doctors, air traffic control staff, pilots, electrical engineers and economists have been targeted by intelligence services in an attempt to break the strike.
The central bank issued a statement that said it would not go on strike, but many employees stayed away.
The SPA said airport workers and pilots were taking part in the civil disobedience, and posted photos of a deserted Khartoum international airport.
“Dozens of airport workers have been arrested by intelligence and the RSF since Monday. We do not know their whereabouts,” an airport worker said on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal.
Activists said the total number of people detained was unclear but was probably in the hundreds.
Scattered protests continued and thousands defied an order from military leaders to postpone religious gatherings marking the festival of Eid. Many roads were blocked by makeshift barricades.
Witnesses said the RSF were still driving through streets in the capital in columns of armored vehicles, often shooting into the air or at people near roadblocks.
“They are shooting … harassing and robbing people, anybody. They don’t care,” one Sudanese told.
Residents blocked many roads with makeshift barricades as they tried to protect their neighborhoods from the paramilitaries and thieves.
“Build barricades and leave. If they are removed we can return and build new ones later … Our revolution is committed to peace,” the Sudanese Professionals Association said on social media.
The internet remains cut off in Khartoum, with other communications significantly restricted.
Residents in Omdurman were carrying knives and sticks to protect themselves from thieves. One described a ghost town with no transportor police.
Sudan’s military leaders have come under increasing international pressure in recent days. The brutal crackdown prompted outrage in the west while the African Union suspended the country and threatened sanctions if there was no swift transition to democracy.
Even Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates appear to be moderating their previous policy of unconditional support for the TMC.
However, a group of Islamist activists held demonstrations in support of the military. They demanded imposition of Sharia (Islamist) law.
Opposition may nominate members for transitional council
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Khartoum on a mediation mission. He proposed a 15-member transitional council consisting of eight civilians and seven army officers to lead the country to democracy.
An opposition leader said that the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) alliance planned to announce nominating Abdullah Hamdouk, a former executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, as new prime minister.
“This is in addition to announcing eight members of the sovereign council, including three women,” the source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
The source gave no further details.
The military council, in what could be a gesture to the protesters, announced on Monday that several government troops have been arrested pending legal action, after a preliminary investigation into the dispersal of the protesters last week found evidence of wrongdoing.
Rebel leaders deported
Stability in Sudan is crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya. Various powers, including Russia and the Gulf Arab states, are trying to influence its path.
Two opposition leaders who met the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, in Khartoum on Friday have been detained, along with an opposition spokesperson.
Abiy was in the Sudanese capital to mediate between the TMC and the opposition.
Yasir Arman, the most prominent of the three men and the deputy head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), was detained last Wednesday after returning from exile following the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir in April.
The two others, SPLM-N secretary-general Ismail Jallab and spokesman Mubarak Ardol, were arrested after meeting the visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister as he tried to mediate between the military council and civilian opposition.
A statement from SPLM-N chairman Malik Agar said the three officials had been “denied access to their accommodation” and deported in a military aircraft to Juba, South Sudan’s capital.
“This happened despite their rejection of the forceful deportation,” the statement said, adding that the move showed the military council’s intention “not to hand power to the civilians and not to reach peace”.
The council could not be reached for comment.
Also on Monday, Deputy U.N. spokeswoman Eri Kaneko told reporters in New York that the military council had decreed to the African Union-U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur to hand over its premises to Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as part of the mission’s withdrawal in 2020.
“That is not in keeping with our existing agreement with the Sudanese government and our insistence that the facilities be used solely for civilian purposes,” she said.
Paramilitaries threw dead protesters into Nile
There have been repeated reports from witnesses and activists that dozens of dead and injured protesters were thrown into the Nile by paramilitary force after Monday’s attack on the camp. Few details have emerged.
Paramilitaries threw the dead bodies into the Nile to try to hide the number of casualties, doctors and activists have said.
The Sudan Doctors’ Committee, however, said the security forces later had retrieved at least 40 bodies from the Nile and disposed of them.
A doctor at a hospital in Khartoum who had been providing medical care at a makeshift camp clinic told he saw the RSF throwing 10 bodies off the Blue Nile Bridge at about 4am during the attack.
Residents and activists retrieved nine bodies from the Nile on Wednesday. Images passed by opposition organizations showed several corpses with concrete blocks tied to their feet.
Many protesters are still unaccounted for and the death toll is likely to rise further.
One activist, who did not want to be named, said: “We are still looking for my cousin. He was there … We are just hoping he is being cared for somewhere but can’t contact us.”
Paramilitaries raped and assaulted protesters and medics
Harrowing details of rapes by the paramilitaries were also emerging.
At least one such assault took place when the RSF invaded a hospital where injured protesters were being treated. Others occurred in the street when paramilitaries chased and caught fleeing civilians, activists said.
Weam Shawga, a women’s rights activist, said she was threatened with rape when the RSF attacked the sit-in.
“I was beaten with sticks and they told me: ‘We could’ve raped you as we did with other women … We know that you are here because you want to have sex,’” she said.
Arrests of opposition leaders were continuing despite calls from international powers for restraint.
UN staff relocated
The UN announced it was also temporarily relocating non-program-critical staff and the US, which pulled most of its staff in April, warned its citizens in the country to exercise “extreme caution” and prepare to leave.
African Union suspends Sudan over violence
Sudan has been suspended from the 54-member African Union (AU) amid growing fears that splits among the ruling military regime could lead to civil war and anarchy.
In a strongly worded statement, the AU said it deplored the loss of innocent lives and called for the military and security forces to ensure the full protection of civilians and respect for human rights and freedoms.