Sudan masses demand ‘power to the people!’

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Sudanese youth confront the military in a truck spraying blue dye at demonstrators in Khartoum

MASSIVE protests are taking place across Sudan with hundreds of thousands on the streets to denounce the military’s tightening grip on power.

Chanting ‘Power to the people!’ the protesters called for a return to full civilian rule. But military forces again responded with force, leaving two people dead.

Activists vowed 2022 will be ‘the year of the continuation of the resistance’ in posts on social media.

They are demanding justice for those killed since the military coup last October, as well as the more than 250 who died during the mass protests that first began in 2019 and paved the way for the toppling of long-time dictator Omar al Bashir who ruled with an iron fist for thirty years.

Abdalla Hamdok, prime minister of Sudan who claimed he would transition the country to civilian rule after the army coup, resigned on Sunday.

Hamdok oversaw the severe financial crisis that led to the first anti-Bashir protests and continued following his removal. Inflation soared to about 400 percent, as many struggled with poverty, shortages of medicines and power cuts.

He also oversaw the hated Israel-Sudan normalisation agreement which took place on October 23, 2020, whereby Israel and Sudan agreed to ‘normalise’ relations.

The Sudan masses support Palestine and were furious at this agreement.

Hamdock’s resignation comes in the midst of rising violence – at least 57 protesters have been killed since the October coup and hundreds wounded, according to medics.

The Sudan Doctors Committee (CCSD), which is part of the pro-democracy movement, said one of the two killed in Sunday’s protests was hit ‘violently’ on the head while taking part in a protest march in Khartoum. The second was shot directly in the chest in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman.

Nazim Sirag, an activist, said security forces used teargas and sound grenades to disperse protesters, and chased them down side streets across the capital.

Protests also took place in other cities including Port Sudan and Nyala in the Darfur region.

The protests came despite tightened security and blocked bridges and roads in Khartoum and Omdurman. Internet connections were also disrupted before the protests, according to advocacy group NetBlocs. Authorities have used such tactics repeatedly since the 25 October coup.

Hamdok was returned to government on November 21 under a deal signed with military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan after having been under house arrest for weeks, during which Sudan was rocked by mass protests against the military’s actions.

But pro-democracy protesters rejected the deal.

Hamdok first emerged as Sudan’s civilian leader after a wave of unprecedented, youth-led protests brought down longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir, who was arrested by the military in April 2019.

But as thousands rallied against the military last week, Hamdok was forced to resign.

The Sudanese security forces tried to clamp down on the demonstrations which was when the two protesters were killed. They fired teargas on the mass crowds as they marched on the presidential palace – which was when Hamdok stepped down.

It was the 12th round of major protests since the coup on October 25.

As with previous demonstrations, which have become regular since the coup, authorities erected roadblocks of shipping containers blocking Nile River bridges between the capital and outlying areas.

Rallies have been repeatedly broken up by security forces firing rounds of tear gas, as well as charges by police wielding batons.

Sunday’s protests came after six people died and hundreds were injured in nationwide demonstrations against the military rule on Thursday. The death toll since the security forces’ crackdown began in October is now 56, the CCSD said.

The military took power in an October 25 coup that ended a power-sharing deal with civilian political forces. That deal, agreed in 2019, was supposed to pave the way for a transitional government and eventually elections following the overthrow of Bashir.

Protests against military rule have continued even after Abdallah Hamdok was reinstated as prime minister in November.

The demonstrators are demanding the military play no role in government during a transition to free elections.

Some people managed to post images on social media showing protests in several other cities, including Ad-Damazin and Port Sudan.

Al Hadath TV quoted an adviser to military leader Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan as saying the military would not allow anyone to pull the country into chaos and that continued protests were a ‘physical, psychological, and mental drain on the country’ and ‘would not achieve a political solution’.

In a televised speech on Friday, Burhan said disputes about power and the loss of lives meant everyone ‘should use the voice of reason.

‘The only way to rule is by popular mandate through elections,’ he said.

On Friday, Sudan’s Sovereign Council, which Burhan leads, denounced the violence at Thursday’s protests, adding it had ordered authorities to take all legal and military measures to avoid a recurrence and ‘nobody will go unpunished’.

Last week, the council reinstated powers of arrest and detention to the intelligence service.

Allegations surfaced last month of sexual violence, including rape and gang-rape by security forces against female protesters, according to the United Nations.

The allegations surfaced after the demonstrations in Khartoum on Sunday, where tens of thousands had massed to mark the third anniversary of protests that led to the overthrow of al-Bashir in April 2019.

Demonstrators, who made for the presidential palace were also protesting against October’s military coup and the political agreement signed later on 21 November, said UN rights office spokesperson Liz Throssell.

Speaking in Geneva, she said that security forces are alleged to have raped or gang raped 13 women and girls.

Two protesters also died after being shot and 300 others were injured, she said. Some were hit by live ammunition or tear gas canisters or beaten by security forces, while others suffered breathing difficulties after inhaling tear gas.

‘With further protests planned for this weekend and the weeks ahead, it is crucial that security forces guarantee and protect the right to peaceful assembly and act with full respect for international laws and standards regulating the use of force,’ Throssell insisted.

At a scheduled briefing, she said that The Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR)’s Joint Human Rights Office in Sudan had learned of the 13 allegations of rape or gang rape.

‘We have also received allegations of sexual harassment by security forces against women who were trying to flee the area around the presidential palace on Sunday evening,’ she said.

Highlighting the ‘unnecessary or disproportionate use of force, in particular use of live ammunition,’ the OHCHR official called for the perpetrators to be identified and prosecuted.

On reported violence and rights violations committed since October’s military coup, which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier said had betrayed ‘the courageous and inspiring revolution of 2019,’ Throssell noted that a committee of senior prosecutors had been tasked with an investigation.

But these findings should be made public, ‘with maximum transparency, with a view to holding to account, including through criminal investigations, those responsible for human rights violations and abuses,’ she maintained.

Elsewhere in Sudan, the UN rights office spokesperson pointed to a deadly upsurge in intercommunal violence in Darfur and South Kordofan. Since September, this has resulted in at least 250 civilians killed, 197 injured and more than 50,000 displaced.

Earlier this month, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said that thousands of Sudanese had fled violence in Jebel Moon, one of the five states in Darfur. More than 2,000 of them, mostly women and children, had sought refuge in neighbouring Chad.

Sudan has some three million internally displaced people, with more than 80 per cent living in the five Darfur States. In 2021, around 200 violent incidents were reported there, causing fresh displacement, according to UNHCR.

‘There have been serious protection gaps in Darfur, especially following the reduction of state security forces in key areas in Darfur and long delays in implementation of a National Plan for Civilian Protection,’ Throssell said.

Although the national authorities intend to deploy a 3,000-strong temporary joint protection force later this month, the UN rights office spokesperson said it was crucial that they receive comprehensive training on human rights and international humanitarian law first.

‘It is also essential that those responsible for the human rights violations and abuses committed are held accountable, regardless of their affiliation,’ she said.

In her last update on the situation in Sudan to the Human Rights Council, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned the 25 October coup and the arrests that followed as reminiscent of the country’s dark recent past.

‘The whereabouts of most of those arrested remains unknown, and they have been held incommunicado, with no access to lawyers or their relatives – enforced disappearances compounding the gravity of their arbitrary arrests,’ Bachelet said, noting how ‘massive street protests’ since the military takeover had been met with excessive use of force by the Sudan Armed Forces, including the use of live ammunition.