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Sudan generals meet protest leaders in final talks on ruling council

The composition of the new sovereign council has been the toughest part of the negotiations.

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Sudan generals meet protest leaders in final talks on ruling council

Army generals and protest leaders are on Wednesday expected to finalise the make-up of a new body to govern Sudan for three years, the thorniest issue in installing civilian rule.

The protest movement that brought down president Omar al-Bashir after 30 years of iron-fisted rule is demanding a civilian-led transition, which the generals have steadfastly resisted since bowing to their demands and toppling the autocrat.

The latest breakthrough came despite the talks being marred by violence that left six people dead on Monday at a sit-in held by protesters outside the army headquarters in Khartoum.

Wednesday’s crucial negotiations are due to start at 9:00 pm (1900 GMT), said Khalid Omar Yousef, a leader from the protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change.

“The announcement is expected after midnight,” he told reporters.

The current talks began on Monday and the two sides have since agreed on an overall civilian structure, including a three-year transitional period for the full transfer of power to a civilian administration.

They have also agreed that parliament be composed of 300 members for the transition, with 67 per cent from the alliance and the rest drawn from other political groups.

The first six months of the transition would be devoted to reaching peace accords with rebels in war zones including Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

The United Arab Emirates, which according to analysts backs the ruling generals, hailed the agreement on a transitional period.

It “puts Sudan on the road of stability and recovery after years of Bashir and (Muslim) Brotherhood’s dictatorship,” its minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gragash, tweeted.

‘All powers with cabinet’ –

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have offered $3 billion in aid for Sudan.

The composition of the new sovereign council has been the toughest part of the negotiations, with the two sides so far offering different make-ups of the body which is expected to take all key decisions concerning national issues.

The generals want it to be military-led, while the protesters insist on a majority civilian body.

“We vow to our people that the agreement will be completed fully within 24 hours in a way that it meets the people’s aspirations,” said General Yasser al-Atta, one of the members of the current ruling military council.

The new council is expected to form a transitional civilian government, which would then prepare for the first post-Bashir election after the three-year changeover period ends.

The protest leader, Yousef downplayed the role of the proposed ruling council, insisting Sudan would have a powerful cabinet.

“All powers will be in the cabinet’s hand, which will be formed by the Alliance for Freedom and Change,” he said.

“Only the ministers of defence and interior are going to be with the military.”

He reiterated the protesters’ demand that the “majority of the (sovereign) council members must be civilians”.

Tensions have soared this week as deadly violence erupted at the site of the long-running sit-in protest outside the army complex in Khartoum.

The shootings that killed five protesters and an army major on Monday came a day after protesters blocked a key avenue in Khartoum, which the generals said was “totally unacceptable”.

Blames and optimism –

The United States blamed the army for the deaths.

They “were clearly the result of the Transitional Military Council trying to impose its will on the protesters by attempting to remove roadblocks”, said its embassy in Khartoum.

“The decision for security forces to escalate the use of force, including the unnecessary use of tear gas, led directly to the unacceptable violence later in the day that the TMC was unable to control.”

The United States has consistently called on the military council to transfer power to civilians.

The protest movement, after initially blaming the militias of the former regime for the bloodshed, later accused the military council.

“We put the whole responsibility on the military council for what happened yesterday because it’s their direct responsibility to guard and protect the citizens,” said Mohamed Naji al-Assam, a prominent figure in the movement.

Thousands of protesters remain camped outside the military complex in central Khartoum awaiting the outcome of the ongoing talks.

The sit-in has become the focal point for the protest movement, overtaking the near daily demonstrations that had been held across Sudan while Bashir remained in power.

“We are optimistic about the agreement,” said protester Mohamed Adam, referring to the transitional period accord.

“It represents victory for the Sudanese people over the remnants of the former regime.”

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Egypt slams British Airways for ‘unilateral decision’ to halt flights

The British carrier recently said it had halted flights for a week following a security review, without giving further details

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Egypt slams British Airways for 'unilateral decision' to halt flights
A British Airways aircraft. (Photo by AAMIR QURESHI / AFP)

Egypt’s civil aviation minister criticised British Airways on Sunday, a day after it suspended flights to Cairo citing security concerns.

In a meeting with UK ambassador Geoffrey Adams, Younes al-Masri voiced his “displeasure” that the airline’s “unilateral decision” had been taken “without consulting Egyptian authorities”, according to a ministry statement.

The British carrier said Saturday it had halted flights for a week following a security review, without giving further details.

German carrier, Lufthansa, which had also suspended flights to Cairo from Munich and Frankfurt on Saturday without giving a reason, resumed operations Sunday.

Adams apologised to Masri for the fact that Egyptian authorities had not been notified, the ministry said.

The ambassador said BA’s decision had “nothing to do with the security measures of Egyptian airports”, adding that both sides were working to “solve this problem as soon as possible”, the statement added.

The ministry said on Saturday it was “co-ordinating” with the British embassy in Cairo and BA’s local representative, as well as running extra EgyptAir flights to London to carry stranded passengers. 

In its travel advice for British nationals heading to Egypt, the UK Foreign Office warns of “a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation”.

Tourism is a vital source of revenue and jobs for Egypt, but has been battered by deadly attacks targeting foreigners and security forces since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler, Hosni Mubarak.

Britain cancelled flights to Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh in 2015 after jihadists bombed a Russian airliner carrying holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort, killing more than 220 people on board.

But the sector has partly recovered since, with an estimated 415,000 British nationals visiting Egypt in 2018.

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Sudanese police tear-gas marchers during rally for ‘martyrs’

“The rallies are a tribute to those honourable martyrs of the December revolution.” -SPA

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Sudanese police tear-gas marchers during rally for 'martyrs'
Sudanese protesters chant slogans and wave national flags as they march in the capital Khartoum's Green Square on July 18, 2019, as they honour comrades killed in the months-long protest movement that has rocked the country. (Photo by - / AFP)

Sudanese police fired tear gas Thursday as hundreds of demonstrators marched on a prominent Khartoum square to honour comrades killed in the months-long protest movement that has rocked the country.

The rallies came a day after protest leaders and army rulers inked a power-sharing deal to form a joint civilian-military body tasked with installing a civilian administration — the main demand of demonstrators.

Witnesses said men and women waving Sudanese flags marched from several parts of the capital towards the Green Yard, a prominent square.

As they marched, the demonstrators shouted slogans that have been the rallying cries of the uprising that led to the toppling in April of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir: “Civilian rule, civilian rule!” and “Freedom, peace, justice!”

The marches were held in response to calls from a key protest group.

“The rallies are a tribute to those honourable martyrs of the December revolution,” the Sudanese Professionals Association said in a statement.

Riot police fired tear gas to disperse a rally at a key bus station in downtown Khartoum, witnesses said.

“Protesters who were dispersed are trying to mobilise again and continue with the rally. It’s like a game of cat and mouse between them,” a witness told reporters from the capital’s Jackson bus station.

One onlooker said that many who arrived at the Green Square were in tears as they chanted slogans remembering those killed in the protests.

The SPA spearheaded the initial campaign which erupted in  December against the government of Bashir over its decision to triple the price of bread.

Those protests swiftly escalated into a nationwide movement that led to the army’s overthrow of Bashir in April.

But protesters continued taking to the streets against the military council that took power in his place.

More than 200 people been killed since December in protest-related violence, according to doctors close to the movement.

Tensions between the generals and protesters surged after a June 3 raid against a weeks-long Khartoum sit-in that left dozens of demonstrators dead.

On Wednesday the protesters and generals finally agreed a deal paving the way to a transitional civilian administration that would govern for just over three years.

The talks, however, are set to continue Friday as the two sides push to resolve remaining issues.

A western troika of the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway, which have been involved in mediating the talks, welcomed the signing of the deal and called for the formation of a civilian-led administration.

“We encourage the parties to quickly conclude the parallel constitutional agreement and form the civilian-led transitional government, which the Sudanese people have courageously and peacefully demanded since December 2018,” they said in a joint statement.

“The troika looks forward to engaging a civilian-led transitional government as it works to achieve the Sudanese people’s aspirations for responsive governance, peace, justice, and development.”

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Moroccan court to pass verdict on suspected killers of Scandinavian hikers

The prosecution has called for jail terms of between 15 years and life for the 21 other defendants on trial since May 2

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Moroccan court to pass verdict on suspected killers of Scandinavian hikers
Suspected killer of two Scandinavian hikers, arriving for his trial at a Moroccan court in Sale near the capital Rabat. Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland had their throats slit before they were beheaded in December at an isolated site in the High Atlas mountains. (Photo by - / AFP)

Verdicts are expected Thursday for 24 suspected jihadists accused over the murder of two Scandinavian women beheaded while on a hiking trip in Morocco.

Winding up an 11-week-long trial in an anti-terrorist court in Sale, near the capital Rabat, the defendants are to make their final statements before judges withdraw.

Verdicts are expected to be announced later the same day in the case that has shocked the country.

“We expect sentences that match the cruelty of the crime,” lawyer Khaled El Fataoui, speaking for the family of Danish victim Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, told reporters.

Helle Petersen, her mother, in a letter read out in court last week, said:

“The most just thing would be to give these beasts the death penalty they deserve.”

Prosecutors have already called for the death penalty for the three main suspects behind the “bloodthirsty” killings in the High Atlas mountains last December.

The maximum sentence was sought for 25-year-old suspected ringleader Abdessamad Ejjoud and two radicalised Moroccans, although Morocco has had a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.

Petitions on social media have likewise called for their execution.

The three admitted to killing Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland, whose family has declined to take part in the trial.

The prosecution has called for jail terms of between 15 years and life for the 21 other defendants on trial since May 2.

READ: Suspects in murder of Scandinavian hikers begins in Morocco

A life sentence has been sought for Abderrahim Khayali, a 33-year-old plumber, who had accompanied the three alleged assailants but left the scene before the murders.

The prosecution called for 20 years in jail for Kevin Zoller Guervos, a Spanish-Swiss convert to Islam.

The only non-Moroccan in the group, Guervos is accused of having taught the main suspects how to use an encrypted messaging service and to use weapons.

His lawyer, Saad Sahli, said Guervos had cut all ties with the other suspects “once he knew they had extremist ideas” more than 18 months ago. 

All but three of those on trial had said they were supporters of the Islamic State group, according to the prosecution, although IS itself has never claimed responsibility for the murders.

The three killers of the women were “bloodthirsty monsters”, the prosecution said, pointing out that an autopsy report had found 23 injuries on Jespersen’s decapitated body and seven on that of Ueland.

Ejjoud, an underground imam, had confessed at a previous hearing to beheading one of the women and Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter, the other, while Rachid Afatti, 33, had filmed the murders on his mobile phone.

The defence team called for “mitigating circumstances on account of their precarious social conditions and psychological disequilibrium”.

Coming from modest backgrounds, with a “very low” level of education, the defendants lived for the most part in low-income areas of Marrakesh.

Jespersen’s lawyers have accused authorities of having failed to monitor the activities of some of the suspects before the murders.

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