The National Times - Sudanese plan mass anti-coup rallies on sit-in anniversary

Sudanese plan mass anti-coup rallies on sit-in anniversary

Sudanese plan mass anti-coup rallies on sit-in anniversary
Sudanese plan mass anti-coup rallies on sit-in anniversary

Sudanese protesters are gearing up for mass rallies demanding an end to military rule on Wednesday, the historic anniversary of events leading to the toppling of autocrats including Omar al-Bashir.

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The planned demonstrations come as Sudan grapples with fallout from an October 25 military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan that has hammered its economy.

Security forces sealed off bridges connecting Khartoum with other major cities in the morning and deployed around the presidential palace and army headquarters in the capital, witnesses said.

The protest was organised to coincide with the anniversary a 1985 popular uprising that ousted president Jaafar Nimeiri after years of harsh rule.

April 6 also marks the third anniversary of the beginning of a mass sit-in demonstration outside the army headquarters, the culmination of months of protests calling for an end to Bashir's iron-fisted three decades in power.

Generals bowed to the pressure from the street to remove Bashir five days later, but the protesters stayed at their encampment to press for civilian rule, only to be dispersed violently in June that year by men in military fatigues.

At least 128 people were killed in an ensuing crackdown that lasted for days, according to medics.

Civilian and military leaders later agreed on a transition to civilian rule, but Sudan's latest coup in October upended those plans.

Protesters have since been taking to the streets seeking to end military rule.

In recent weeks, activists have ramped up online calls for Wednesday's protests, using hashtags such as "The storm of April 6" and "The earthquake of April 6".

- 'Defeat the coup' -

The government has declared Wednesday a public holiday, in a brief statement.

"It is an important day... so we expect many to take to the streets despite the heat and Ramadan," said Badwi Bashir, a protester from Khartoum.

"We just want to bring down the coup and end the prospect of any future coups."

Jaafar Hassan, a spokesman for the Forces of Freedom and Change, the main civilian bloc which was ousted after the coup, said April was "the month of victories for the Sudanese".

"We have to defeat the coup... We have to get out of this crisis," Hassan told a news conference last week.

Since grabbing power, the military leaders have moved to tighten their grip, rounding up prominent civilian leaders and reversing appointments made during the transition.

"We want a unified front," said Hassan. "We have tried a partnership with the military, and it failed, ending in this coup, and we shouldn't do this again."

General Burhan said on Saturday he would only "hand over power to an honest, elected authority, accepted by the all the Sudanese people".

At least 93 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the crackdown on the latest anti-coup protests, according to medics.

- Economy in nosedive -

Since the coup, Sudan's already ailing economy has suffered severe blows, as Western donors cut crucial aid pending the restoration of a transition to civilian rule.

Prices of food, fuel and basic commodities have soared and crime and has spiked.

Violence has intensified in remote areas of Sudan, particularly the restive Darfur region, according to the United Nations.

On Thursday, clashes between Arab and non-Arab tribes left at least 45 people killed in South Darfur state.

Darfur was the scene of a bitter conflict in 2003 under Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court over accusations of atrocities in the region.

On Tuesday, the ICC began the trial of Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, an ally of Bashir, over his role in the conflict.

The UN has warned of growing humanitarian needs and food insecurity in Sudan.

Last month, the World Food Programme said the number of Sudanese facing acute hunger would double to more than 18 million by September.

Late Tuesday, Burhan welcomed an initiative for talks to resolve the political crisis by the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, an alliance including ex-rebel groups allied with the military.

Burhan last week threatened to expel UN special representative Volker Perthes, accusing him of "interference" in the country's affairs after Perthes warned of the deepening crisis in Sudan during a UN Security Council briefing.

Perthes' mission, UNITAMS, along with the African Union and the regional bloc IGAD, have agreed on joint efforts to facilitate Sudanese-led talks in a bid to resolve the crisis.