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Sudanese protesters begin strike amidst fraying talks with military

Strike action grounds airport and bus terminal services in Khartoum

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Sudanese protesters begin strike amidst fraying talks with military
Passengers wait outside the departure terminal at Khartoum airport on May 28, 2019 as aviation professionals take part in a two-day national strike to step up pressure on the ruling military council. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

Hundreds of passengers at Khartoum airport and the Sudanese capital’s main bus terminal were stranded Tuesday as protesters began a two-day national strike to pile pressure on the military to hand over power to a civilian administration.

Leaders of an umbrella protest movement remain at loggerheads with army generals, who seized power after ousting president Omar al-Bashir last month, over who should lead a new governing body -a civilian or a soldier.

The new governing body is expected to install a transitional civilian government, which in turn would prepare for the first post-Bashir elections after a three-year interim period.

In a bid to step up pressure on the ruling military council, the Alliance for Freedom and Change protest movement has called for a two-day general strike starting on Tuesday.

Hundreds of passengers were stranded at Khartoum airport as scores of employees at the facility went on strike, chanting “civilian rule, civilian rule,” an AFP correspondent there said.

Sudanese protesters begin strike amidst fraying talks with military

Many employees carried banners or wore badges that read “We are on strike”.

Sudanese airlines Badr, Tarco, and Nova suspended flights on Tuesday, although some international flights were still scheduled.

Passengers were also stranded at Khartoum’s main bus terminal as hundreds of employees observed the strike.

Many carried banners reading: “Today, tomorrow no buses as we are on strike”.

“I have to travel to Gadaref to be with my family for Eid, but I’m not angry as I understand the reason for the strike,” traveller Fatima Omar said as she waited with her children at the bus terminal.

‘Still no breakthrough’-

Protest leader, Siddiq Farukh told AFP that the strike was a message to the world that Sudanese people “don’t want the power to be with the military”.

Another prominent protester, Wajdi Saleh, told reporters late Monday that there was “still no breakthrough” in negotiations but the protest movement was ready to negotiate if the generals offered fresh talks.

“We hope that we reach an agreement with the military council and won’t have to go on an indefinite strike,” he said. 

Protest leaders had said medics, lawyers, prosecutors, employees in the electricity and water sectors, public transport, railways, telecommunication and civil aviation were set to take part in the strike.

They said actions in the telecoms and aviation sectors would not affect operations.

But the protest movement’s plan has been dealt a blow after a key member, the National Umma Party, said it opposed the plan as there had been no unanimous decision for a strike.

Umma and its chief Sadiq al-Mahdi have for decades been the main opponents of Bashir’s iron-fisted rule, and threw their weight behind the protest movement after nationwide demonstrations erupted in December.

Mahdi’s elected government was toppled by Bashir in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Civilian rule ‘only solution’ –

Protester, Hazar Mustafa said a civilian government was the only solution to Sudan’s problems.

“We see the military council as part of the former regime. We don’t see it upholding any rights and building a just state,” she said.

The army ousted Bashir in April after months of protests against his autocratic rule, including a sit-in by tens of thousands of protesters outside Khartoum’s military headquarters.

But the generals, backed by key regional powers, have resisted calls from protesters and Western governments to hand over power to civilians.

Thousands of protesters remain camped outside army headquarters, demanding the generals step down.

Ahead of the strike, the chief of the ruling military council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo toured Khartoum’s regional allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Egypt and the oil-rich Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are seen as backing the generals, even as the United States leads Western calls for a swift transition to civilian rule.

Before suspending talks last week, protesters and the generals had agreed on several key issues, including the three-year transition and the creation of a 300-member parliament, with two thirds of lawmakers coming from the protesters’ umbrella group.

But negotiations stalled as protest leaders insisted a civilian must head the new sovereign council, with civilians making up the majority of its members, a proposal that has been rejected by the military.

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Egypt’s renovation of Baron Palace sparks online outcry

Mnay have faulted repair works as being misrepresentative of the building’s history and materials to be of poor quality

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Egypt's renovation of Baron Palace sparks online outcry
Ongoing restoration works at the historic "Le Palais Hindou" (also known as the "Baron Empain Palace") built by in the early 20th century by Belgian industrialist Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Empain, in the classical Khmer architectural style of Cambodia's Angkor Wat, in the Egyptian capital Cairo's northeastern Heliopolis district. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

Egyptian authorities have defended renovation works at a historic Cairo palace after the site’s new look sparked mockery on social media.

The site, dubbed the Baron Palace, was built between 1907 and 1911 by wealthy Belgian industrialist Edouard Empain. 

The baron also spearheaded the development of the surrounding upmarket neighbourhood of Heliopolis.

Built in a style reminiscent of the Cambodian Hindu temple of Angkor Wat, the striking building set amid lush gardens has long since fallen into disrepair.

READ: Biblio-art: How Polish artist adorns Egyptian monastery with Christian designs

But work to restore the building has sparked outcry.

Many have taken issue with white marble additions to the building’s rosy pink stone exterior, saying the materials are of poor quality and not in keeping with the original style.

One Twitter user asked:

“Who is the fool behind the restoration of Egypt’s palaces? Our heritage is being systematically destroyed.”

A Facebook page called Egyptian Historians chided officials for the “warped” restoration.

Egypt's renovation of Baron Palace sparks online outcry
Ongoing restoration works at the historic “Le Palais Hindou” (also known as the “Baron Empain Palace”) built by in the early 20th century by Belgian industrialist Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Empain, in the classical Khmer architectural style of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, in the Egyptian capital Cairo’s northeastern Heliopolis district. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

“Be honest with yourselves and admit that you ruined it… you are literally demolishing our monument”, a post on the group’s page said.

READ: Tutankhamun gilded coffin receives restoration in Egypt

Antiquities Minister, Khaled El-Enany dismissed online criticisms as “fake news”.

“I didn’t hear one word of truth in all these social media comments,” he said in a statement.

His ministry said the colours of the palace had faded from weather damage over many years.

“The restoration is a real dream and we will breathe life into this abandoned landmark,” Enany added.

WATCH: Egypt begins restoration of Tutankhamun’s coffin

General Hisham Samir, who heads up the ministry’s engineering branch, said the colours were “correct and are backed up by historical sources.”

The works began in July 2017 in co-operation with the Belgian government and will cost 100 million Egyptian pounds (over $6 million), the statement added.

Samir told reporters that the work is expected to be completed by year’s end with plans to open the building to the public by early 2020.

Egypt’s multitude of historical monuments and buildings are a major draw for tourists, though the country has often faced accusations of neglecting these sites.

READ: Contents of two ancient pyramids unveiled in Egypt

The government has recently launched various restoration projects to stimulate tourism, a key sector that has suffered in recent years due to political insecurity and sporadic jihadist attacks.

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Lifestyle News

Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb

Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb.

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Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb
Libyan firefighters extinguish a fire at the site of a car bomb attack in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi on August 10, 2019. - "Two members of the UN mission, one them a foreigner, were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb" in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said. (Photo by - / AFP)

A car bombing in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi killed two United Nations staff on Saturday, a security official said.

“Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb” in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which happened as a UN convoy was passing through the area.

Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the cradle of the 2011 uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was hit by years of violence targeting diplomatic offices and security forces after his fall.

An attack on the US consulate on September 11, 2012, killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In 2017, military strongman Khalifa Haftar drove hardline Islamists and jihadists out of Benghazi after a three-year battle.

Haftar, who backs an eastern-based administration that opposes the Tripoli-based unity government, went on to seize Derna, the last city in eastern Libya outside his control.

But bombings and kidnappings have continued.

A May 2018 attack left seven people dead and last month, a car bombing at the funeral of an ex-army commander killed at least four people and wounded more than 30 others.

A Libyan lawmaker is also feared to have been abducted by an armed group in the eastern city, the UN and lawmakers said in July.

Haftar controls most of eastern Libya, and early this year he ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army to purge the south of what he called “terrorist groups and criminals”. 

On the heels of that campaign, his LNA launched in April an offensive to take the Libyan capital from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord. 

The LNA on Saturday announced a truce around Tripoli for the three-day Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, after the unity government conditionally accepted a ceasefire called for by the UN.

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Culture & Tourism

Tutankhamun gilded coffin receives restoration in Egypt

The golden coffin of the boy king will be displayed along with other Tutankhamun artefacts towards the end of next year

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Egyptian archaeologists restore the coffin and mummy of King Tutankhamun

Egypt displayed on Sunday the gilded coffin of Tutankhamun, under restoration for the first time since the boy king’s tomb was discovered in 1922. The restoration process began in mid-July after the three-tiered coffin was transferred to the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo from the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, southern Egypt.

“We are showing you a unique historical artefact, not just for Egypt but for the world,” Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Enany told a press conference at the new museum, which overlooks the famed Giza Pyramids.

The golden coffin of the boy king will be displayed along with other Tutankhamun artefacts towards the end of next year when Egypt’s new mega-museum is opened to the public. The restoration is expected to take around eight months.

The outer gilded wood coffin stands at 2.23 metres (7.3 feet) and is decorated with a depiction of the boy king holding the pharaonic symbols the flail and crook, according to the ministry. In the last century, the coffin has “developed cracks in its gilded layers of plaster, especially those of the lid and base”.

Famed British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the 18th dynasty king in Luxor in 1922. Sunday’s announcement comes after the controversy the Pharoah courted in early July when a 3,000-year-old Tutankhamun artefact was sold in London for $6 million.

Furious Egyptian officials condemned the sale and asked the international police agency Interpol to trace the artefact which it deems looted.

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