Mon, 22 Jul 2019

Sudan's protest leaders have called for nighttime demonstrations and marches in the capital, Khartoum, and elsewhere in the country, amid a tense standoff with the ruling military council over who should lead the transition after the removal of the autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

The protest leaders on Monday said they have begun a "revolutionary escalation" to pressure the Transitional Military Council (TMC) to hand over power to civilians and condemn the crackdown on a sit-in camp earlier this month.

Thousands of demonstrators who had camped outside the army headquarters in the capital for weeks were violently dispersed by gunmen in military fatigues on June 3, leaving dozens dead and hundreds wounded, according to doctors and witnesses.

Protesters blame the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group for the crackdown and the TMC says it has launched an investigation.

The sit-in was initially held seeking the removal of Bashir and later to demand that the army generals who toppled him hand power to a civilian administration.

The protest camp was dispersed after talks between the Alliance for Freedom and Change, the umbrella protest movement, and a transitional military council collapsed over installing civilian rule.

At least 128 people have been killed since the June 3 crackdown, the majority the day the sit-in was cleared, according to doctors linked to the protest movement.

The health ministry put that day's death toll nationwide at 61.

'Street demonstrations risky'

On Monday, the alliance called for nighttime demonstrations in residential areas of Khartoum and other regions starting on Tuesday to "ask for our main demands, which are transitional civilian rule and condemning the massacre of June 3".

Protests would also be held on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

"We are calling on our people in villages, towns and all over the country to participate," the alliance said.

During the anti-Bashir campaign, the alliance had managed to mobilise supporters by posting its calls on social media networks, but since the June 3 crackdown the authorities have cut back internet services across the country.

Dura Gambo, an activist with the Sudanese Professionals Association which has spearheaded the protest movement since December, said protesters were still facing deadly repression as long as the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and other security units were left on the streets in Khartoum and other cities.

"Street demonstrations are risky. It means more crackdown and deaths," she said.

Talks between the protest leaders and the military council are, however, expected to resume following mediation led by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, but it is still unclear when they are to begin.

"We welcome the mediation by Ethiopia," protest leader Mohamed Naji al-Assam told a press conference on Monday.

But Assam condemned what he said were "the horrors committed by the forces affiliated with the (ruling) military council" on June 3 at the protest sit-in.

"There are 12 documented cases of rape," Assam said, as he also accused these forces of "premeditated murder" and "throwing bodies (of protesters) in the Nile" river.

Gambo said the protest leaders chose to return to the streets after they realised that the military "started to pull out of the previous deals".

"There is a total impasse. The negotiations have been suspended, internet services remain blocked, and the Ethiopian mediations apparently did not make progress," she said.

On Sunday, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy chief of the military council, vowed that "whoever committed any fault" would be held to account.

"We are working hard to take those who did this to the gallows," he said.

Last week, military council spokesperson General Shamseddine Kabbashi angrily dismissed allegations of rape and murder as "lies".

He insisted the council did not order the dispersal, saying it had actually planned to purge an area near the protest camp where people were said to have been selling drugs.

Kabbashi, however, expressed "regret" over the "excesses" that happened on June 3.

Violations must be investigated, EU says

On Monday, the European Union blamed Sudan's military authorities for the bloody crackdown and demanded a full investigation.

"It is clear that the responsibility lies with the Transitional Military Council (TMC) as the authority in charge of protecting the population," the ministers said in their statement.

"All human rights violations and abuses committed must be investigated in an independent and transparent manner, and perpetrators held accountable for their acts."

The statement urged the military to take confidence-building measures, including lifting restrictions on freedom of assembly, freedom of the media, civic space and access to the internet, and for the FDFC to respond accordingly.

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