Thousands of protesters in Sudan call for transition to civilian rule

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Thousands of Sudanese protesters gathered on Saturday two months after a military coup, demanding that soldiers “return to barracks” and calling for a transition to civilian rule.

Waving flags, beating drums, dancing and singing, crowds marched through the streets of Khartoum despite a massive deployment of security forces – who then fired tear gas canisters to smash them.

Agents had previously blocked bridges connecting the capital to suburbs, cut phone lines and restricted the internet ahead of planned protests.

At least 48 people have died in crackdowns during weeks of protests, according to the Independent Medical Committee, and the governor of Khartoum state has warned that security forces “will deal with those who break the law and create chaos ”.

Protesters converged on the presidential palace in Khartoum, the seat of the military government in power since General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan took power on October 25.

Burhan held the civilian leader, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, under house arrest for weeks, but reinstated him on November 21 as part of a deal promising elections for July 2023.

The move alienated many pro-democracy Hamdok supporters, who dismissed it as offering a cover of legitimacy to Burhan’s coup.

Online protesters encouraged supporters with slogans, including demanding “no negotiations” with the military.

In addition to rallies in Khartoum and its suburbs, protesters also marched through the streets of Madani, a town about 150 kilometers (over 90 miles) to the south, witnesses said.

Internet cut at dawn Security forces with cranes used sea containers to block bridges across the Nile connecting Khartoum to the towns of Omdurman and northern Khartoum, and the web watch group NetBlocks reported that the Mobile internet was cut off at sunrise on Saturday.

Activists reported the arrests of several colleagues from Friday evening, and Volker Perthes, the UN special envoy to Sudan, urged authorities to “protect” the protests so as not to stop them.

“Freedom of speech is a human right,” Perthes said on Saturday, adding that it includes “full access” to the internet. “No one should be arrested for their intention to demonstrate peacefully.”

“We draw the attention of the world and ask them to monitor what is happening in Sudan on the issue of the revolutionary movement for freedom and democracy,” said the Committee of Physicians, which is part of the pro-democracy movement.

The governor of Khartoum warned that “approaching or attacking buildings of strategic sovereignty is punishable by law”.

Rape used as a “weapon” At rallies last Sunday, held to mark the third anniversary of the mass protests that led to the ousting of veteran strongman Omar al-Bashir, the crowd began a ” sit-in “protest in front of the presidential palace.

Within hours, security forces dispersed thousands of demonstrators with batons and tear gas canisters.

Activists condemned sexual assaults during the protests, in which the UN said at least 13 women and girls were raped.

The European Union and the United States issued a joint statement Thursday condemning the use of sexual violence “as a weapon to keep women away from protests and silence their voices.”

Sudan, one of the poorest countries in the world, has a long history of military coups, enjoying only rare interludes of democratic rule since independence in 1956.

More than 14 million people, or a third of the Sudanese population, will need humanitarian assistance next year, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the highest level in a decade.

Activists say more protests are scheduled for December 30.

(AFP)

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