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‘State of terror’ reigns in Khartoum, residents fear for post-massacre tensions

Apart from an alarming presence of military forces in Khartoum, internet blackouts continued to beset the city.

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'State of terror' reigns in Khartoum, residents fear for post-massacre tensions
Members of Sudan's security forces patrol the town of Omdurman, just across the Nile from the capital Khartoum. (Photo by - / AFP)

Heavily armed paramilitaries roamed the Sudanese capital Thursday, forcing fearful residents to hide indoors after a crackdown on protesters that authorities admitted had left dozens dead and prompted the African Union to suspend Khartoum.

Members of the Rapid Support Forces, who rights groups say have their origins in the Janjaweed militias of Darfur, deployed on the streets in pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns and rocket launchers, witnesses said.

“We’re living in a state of terror because of sporadic gunfire,” a resident of south Khartoum told reporters.

He said he was “afraid for (his) children to go out in the street”.


This map of Khartoum shows the areas in the capital city of Sudan, where dozens have been killed so far during a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by special forces attached to the country’s military.

As international condemnation mounted, a health ministry official told reporters that “the death toll across the country had risen to 61,” including 52 killed by “live ammunition” in Khartoum.

But it denied doctors’ claims that more than 100 people had been killed in the crackdown on protesters that began with a raid on a long-running sit-in outside the army headquarters on Monday.

The Central Committee for Sudanese Doctors said Wednesday that 40 bodies had been pulled from the Nile, sending the death toll soaring to at least 108.

The committee, which is part of the protest movement and relies on medics on the ground for its information, warned the figure could rise.

The military ousted longtime president Omar al-Bashir in April after months of protests against his authoritarian rule, but thousands of demonstrators had remained camped out in front of the army headquarters calling for the generals to cede power to civilians.

Despite several initial breakthroughs, talks between the ruling military council that took power after Bashir’s ouster and protest leaders collapsed over who should head a new governing body.

‘Feeling of terror’ –

Some life had returned to the streets of the capital on Thursday, with limited public transport operating and only a few cars on the roads.

A small number of shops and restaurants were open on the second day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

But in Omdurman, just across the Nile from Khartoum, a resident said there was a “feeling of terror” about “many military vehicles with all these weapons”. 

Members of Sudan’s security forces patrol as Muslim worshippers attend Eid al-Fitr prayers marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Omdurman, just across the Nile from the capital Khartoum. (Photo by – / AFP)

“We hope that this situation will end quickly so normal life resumes,” he told reporters.

At Khartoum’s airport, relatives of travellers stayed late into the night waiting to see if their flights would arrive, following a slew of cancellations over the past few days.

Internet blackouts continued to beset the city.

The African Union suspended Sudan, “until the effective establishment of a civilian-led Transitional Authority, as the only way to allow the Sudan to exit from the current crisis”, it said on Twitter.

The AU had urged the ruling generals to ensure a smooth transition of power, but the brutal crackdown to disperse protesters saw pressure mount on it to bring those responsible for the violence to justice.

The European Union said it joined the AU in calling for “an immediate end to violence and a credible enquiry into the criminal events of the last days”.

France called for the “resumption of dialogue” between the military committee and the opposition so that an “inclusive agreement is quickly found”.

‘Extreme caution’ –

The United Nations and the British embassy announced they were pulling non-essential staff and their families from Sudan, and the United States warned its citizens to exercise “extreme caution” amid the ongoing uncertainty.

Despite the heavy presence of security forces on Khartoum’s main streets, the groups that spearheaded the demonstrations against Bashir made a fresh call on Thursday for civil disobedience.

“The revolution continues and our people are victorious despite the terrorism and violence of the militias,” the Sudanese Professionals Association, the group that initially launched the anti-Bashir campaign, posted on Twitter.

It urged an “indefinite strike and civil disobedience,” warning against calls for violence.

In the northern suburb of Bahri, smaller roads were blocked by protesters putting up makeshift barricades made from rocks, bricks and tree trunks.

The protesters blamed the bloody crackdown on the “militias” of the military council.

The Rapid Support Forces have been singled out by protesters.

Some residents seemed wary of the heavy deployment of paramilitaries in the streets of the capital.

RSF commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as “Himediti,” said he was on the side of the “revolutionaries” but warned he would not “allow chaos,” referring specifically to the barricades put up in some neighbourhoods.

The ruling Military Council issued a statement hitting out at the “campaign organised on social media aimed at spreading lies and fabricating accusations”.

It said the RSF “refused to carry out the orders of the former regime to expel demonstrators from the sit-in by force”.

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Kais Saied and Nabil Karoui to face off in Tunisia’s runoff election

Kais Saied advances to the next round with 18.85 of votes, while Nabil Kaorui advances second with 15.7% of votes cast

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Kais Saied and Nabil Karoui to face off in Tunisia's runoff election
A screen displays Kais Saied and Nabil Karoui as Nabil Bafon (not seen), the chairman of the Independent High Elections Commission of Tunisia, holds a press conference at the Conference Palace in the Tunisian capital Tunis on September 17, 2019. Kais Saied and Nabil Karoui will face off in the second round of Tunisia's presidential election, state election authorities said on Tuesday. According to official results released by the Independent High Electoral Commission, Saied led with 18.4% of the vote while Nabil Karoui had 15.6%. Yassine Gaidi / AFP

Tunisia’s electoral commission confirmed on Tuesday that a presidential runoff vote will pit law professor Kais Saied against detained media mogul Nabil Karoui.

The result from Sunday’s vote, thrusting two political outsiders to the fore, was a shock to a political establishment in place since the 2011 fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Saied led the first round of polling on Sunday with 18.4 per cent of the vote against Karoui’s 15.6 per cent, taking both through to an October runoff, said the electoral commission, ISIE.

It said turnout reached 49 per cent in Sunday’s election, markedly down from the 64 per cent at the country’s first free presidential poll in 2014.

The two candidates — though very different — have drawn on the same “anti-system” sentiment among the electorate, spurred by exasperation with the status quo.

Unemployment plagues about 15 per cent of the population, especially young graduates, while inflation eats away at already low incomes.

Tunisian voters on Sunday “preferred to venture into the unknown rather than extend a hand again to those who betrayed their hopes”, Le Quotidien newspaper said.

Karoui’s arrest in the runup to the election cemented his status as an outsider, despite being a longtime key supporter of President Beji Caid Essebsi, whose death on July 25 brought forward the polls.

Saied, a fiercely independent academic, advocates a radical decentralisation of power, with local democracy and the ability to remove elected officials from office during their mandates.

ISIE also said it is to investigate alleged electoral violations, including campaigning on behalf of Karoui by Nessma TV, founded by the media mogul.

Karoui himself is under investigation for alleged money laundering and has been in pre-trial detention since August 23. 

Appeals to have him freed before the polls were rejected but his lawyers plan to refile for his release after the results are confirmed.

Karoui remains eligible to run despite his imprisonment, as long as any conviction does not also specifically deprive him of his civil rights, according to ISIE.

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France pledges to “influence” removal of Sudan from US terror blacklist

Le Drian was in Khartoum for a one-day visit, the first such trip to Sudan by France’s top diplomat in more than a decade.

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France pledges to "influence" removal of Sudan from US terror blacklist
France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sudan, Asma Mohamed Abdalla hold a press conference after their meeting in Khartoum, Sudan on September 16, 2019. Mahmoud Hjaj / Anadolu Agency

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday that France will press to drop Sudan from the US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism and to support efforts to reintegrate the country into the international community.

Le Drian was in Khartoum for a one-day visit, the first such trip to Sudan by France’s top diplomat in more than a decade.

His visit comes as the country transitions to civilian rule after decades of authoritarianism.

“We will use our influence to ensure that Sudan is removed from this list,” Le Drian said at a joint press conference with his Sudanese counterpart Asma Mohamed Abdalla after the two held talks.

“It is the way to ensure that we can consider a new relationship (for Sudan) with financial institutions, everything is obviously linked,” he said, asked by reporters if France would back efforts to remove Sudan from Washington’s blacklist.

Decades of US blacklisting along with a trade embargo imposed on Sudan in 1997 has kept overseas investors away from the country, in turn isolating it from the global economy.

Sudan’s worsening economic situation was the key trigger for nationwide protests that finally led to the ouster of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April.

Washington lifted the sanctions in October 2017, but kept Sudan in the terrorism list along with North Korea, Iran and Syria.

Washington’s measures were imposed for Khartoum’s alleged support for Islamist militant groups.

Al-Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden resided in Sudan between 1992 and 1996.

France pledges to "influence" removal of Sudan from US terror blacklist
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian meets Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Khartoum, Sudan on September 16, 2019. Mahmoud Hjaj / Anadolu Agency

Le Drian said the pivotal role played by Sudan’s army in the uprising against Bashir would help in removing Sudan from the US blacklist.

“The way the army perceived its role during this period, (that) goes in the direction of removing Sudan from this list,” he said.

The army overthrew Bashir in a palace coup on April 11 on the back of months of nationwide protests.

But a military council seized power after ousting him and for months resisted calls from protesters to transfer it to a civilian administration.

Only last month after sustained agitation, a joint civilian-military sovereign council was sworn in to oversee Sudan’s transition to civilian rule, the key demand of protesters.

On September 8, Sudan’s first cabinet led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was sworn in to run the daily affairs of the country.

During his short visit to Khartoum, Le Drian also met Hamdok and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the civilian-military ruling council.

Le Drian also reiterated French support for Sudan’s priorities such as rebuilding the economy and striking peace agreements with rebel groups in conflict zones of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

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2 candidates claim first round wins in Tunisia elections

Turnout was reported by the elections commission (ISIE) to be 45 percent, down from 64 percent recorded in the 2014 polls

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Tunisia elections: 2 candidates claim wins

Two anti-establishment candidates in Tunisia’s election claimed Sunday to have won through to a runoff, hours after polling closed in the country’s second free presidential poll since the 2011 Arab Spring.

In a sign of voter apathy, especially among the young, turnout was reported by the elections commission (ISIE) to be 45 percent, down from 64 percent recorded in the 2014 polls. Kais Saied, a 61-year-old law professor and expert on constitutional affairs who ran as an independent, claimed to be in pole position.

He finished “first in the first round,” he said, citing exit polls ahead of preliminary results expected to be announced on Tuesday. There was also an upbeat atmosphere at the party headquarters of jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui, behind bars due to a money laundering probe, as hundreds of supporters celebrated after he also claimed to have reached the second round.

Other prominent candidates in the first round included Abdelfattah Mourou, heading a first-time bid for Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. Ennahdha insisted it would wait for the official results. 

“Only the elections board gives the results,” said Ennahdha MP and Mourou’s campaign director, Samir Dilou. “I do not doubt the work of the polling institutes, (but) it is not their role to impose a certain truth on the public,” he told reporters.

Chahed’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and the rising cost of living. The prime minister has also found himself having to vehemently deny accusations that Karoui’s detention since late August was politically inspired.

Tunisia Elections: citizens cast their votes
Tunisian voter queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city, northeast of Tunis, Tunisia, to elect the Tunisia’s president in a first-round vote of the presidential elections, on September 15, 2019. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

Read: Detained but undeterred; Nabil Karoui’s campaign continues in Tunisia

‘Where are the young?’

“Young people of Tunisia, you still have an hour to vote!” ISIE head Nabil Baffoun had urged before the close of Sunday’s vote. “We must leave our homes and vote – it’s a right that we gained from the 2011 revolution which cost lives,” Baffoun added, visibly disappointed by the turnout.

However, he later said that the turnout of 45 percent was “an acceptable level”. At polling stations visited by journalists, there was a high proportion of older voters, but few young people. The election followed an intense campaign characterised more by personality clashes than political differences. 

It had been brought forward by the death of 92-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in July and whose widow also passed away on Sunday morning. Essebsi had been elected in the wake of the 2011 revolt that overthrew former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Publication of opinion polls has officially been banned since July. Some of the 24 hopefuls who contested the polls tried to burnish anti-establishment credentials to distance themselves from a political elite discredited by personal quarrels. Another independent candidate was Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, a technocrat running for the first time, although with backing from Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party.

The long list of active runners was trimmed by the last-minute withdrawal of two candidates in favour of Zbidi, although their names remained on the ballot paper. But Karoui’s detention, just 10 days ahead of the start of campaigning, has been the top story of the election. Studies suggested his arrest boosted his popularity.

A controversial businessman, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest. But his detractors portray him as a would-be Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier who they allege partly owns his channel.

On Friday, an appeal for the Tunisian mogul’s release from prison ahead of the election was rejected, his party and lawyers said. The polarisation risks derailing the electoral process, according to Michael Ayari, an analyst for the International Crisis Group.

Tunisian voter queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city
Tunisian voters queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city, northeast of Tunis, Tunisia, to elect the Tunisia’s president in a first-round vote of the presidential elections, on September 15, 2019. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

Read: Tunisia decides: Voters head to polls in test on democracy

‘Divisive’ candidates

Isabelle Werenfels, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, called the vote a democratic “test” because “it may require accepting the victory of a polarising candidate” such as Karoui. Distrust of the political elite has been deepened by an unemployment rate of 15 percent and a rise in the cost of living by close to a third since 2016.

Jihadist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector. Around 70,000 security forces were mobilised for the polls. The date of a second and final round between the top two candidates has not been announced, but it must be held by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls, October 6.

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