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Sudan’s military rulers open to dialogue on democratic transition

Our basic mission is to maintain the country’s stability and security.

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Lieutenant General Omar Zain al-Abdin, the head of the new Sudanese military council's political committee, addresses a press conference on April 12, 2019 in the capital Khartoum, one day after Sudan's army ousted the Arab-African country's veteran president Omar al-Bashir. - Sudan's military council pledgeed talks with 'all political entities' and vowed the new governtment will be 'civilian', adding that it will allow no security breaches. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

Sudan’s new military rulers vowed Friday to open a dialogue with all political groups on forming a civilian government as protesters railed against their seizure of power after ousting president Omar al-Bashir.

But the military council warned it would tolerate no breaches of security after protesters defied a night-time curfew to keep up a sit-in demanding immediate civilian rule.

The head of the council’s political committee, Lieutenant General Omar Zain al-Abdin, confirmed that Bashir, who had ruled the country for 30 years and was one of Africa’s longest serving leaders, remained in custody.

But he said the council would never extradite him, or any other Sudanese, despite a longstanding arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Bashir on charges of genocide and war crimes.

Protesters had held mass demonstrations for four months demanding Bashir’s overthrow, defying repeated deadly attempts to crush them by riot police and the feared intelligence services.

But when the ouster was finally announced on Thursday in an address to the nation by Defence Minister Awad Ibnouf, it was met not with joy but anger.

Protest leaders dismissed the transitional military council as the “same old faces” from the old regime which had led the country into multiple conflicts and worsening poverty and social inequality.

Thursday’s announcement meant “we have not achieved anything”, said one protester who gave his name only as Adel.

“We will not stop our revolution. We are calling for the regime to step down, not only Bashir.”

Analysts said that Bashir’s overthrow in a palace coup made the transition to democracy in Sudan a more distant prospect.

“Ironically, the prospects for democratic transition may be more remote than when Bashir was in power as there’s no centre of power with which to negotiate,” said Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

“The power struggle within the security cabal that took power yesterday is just beginning. Bashir had kept their rivalries and ambitions in check; his removal brings in its wake an unregulated uncertainty.”

Calls for restraint

Thousands defied a warning from the military council to respect the night-time curfew imposed from 10 pm to 4:00 am, to maintain their vigil outside army headquarters in Khartoum for a sixth straight night. 

Protesters were seen chatting with soldiers posted outside. They said their quarrel was with the commanders who had led the coup, not the rank and file.

“There was no difference between last night and previous days and nights for us,” said one protester who gave his name as Abu Obeida.

“This is now our square. We have taken it and won’t leave until victory is achieved. 

“We broke the curfew. We will continue doing it until we have a civilian transitional government.”

Calls for restraint on all sides have poured in from abroad.

Washington called on the military council “to exercise restraint and to allow space for civilian participation within the government”.

The European Union urged the army to carry out a “swift” handover to civilian rule.

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for a transition that would meet the “democratic aspirations” of the Sudanese people and appealed for “calm and utmost restraint by all”, his spokesman said.

That came after the African Union decried Bashir’s military overthrow, saying it was “not the appropriate response to the challenges facing Sudan and the aspirations of its people”. 

Most shops and offices were closed on Friday which is the day of prayer and rest in Sudan.

But vast crowds were expected to throng the streets of Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman after the main weekly Muslim prayers at noon raising fears of confrontation between protesters and the security forces. 

“Our basic mission is to maintain the country’s stability and security,” the head of the military council’s political committee told Friday’s news conference.

“We will not allow any breach of security anywhere.”

Sudan’s last elected prime minister, opposition Umma party leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, who was overthrown by Bashir in a military coup in 1989, was expected to address supporters after prayers at one of Omdurman’s most revered mosques.

Since returning to Khartoum from self-imposed exile, Mahdi has allied his party with the grass-roots who were the driving force behind the mass protests that preceded Thursday’s military takeover.

The military council said it was declaring a ceasefire across the country, including in war-torn Darfur.

But the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-AW) fighting government forces in Darfur denounced what it called a “palace coup”.

It was the Bashir government’s brutal response to the ethnic minority rebellion which erupted in the western region of Darfur in 2003 that prompted the ICC genocide charges against him.

The ousted president stands accused of unleashing Arab militias in a scorched earth campaign against minority villages that killed tens of thousands of civilians and forced hundreds of thousands more into camps.

But the military council’s political chief said it would never hand over Bashir.

“We as a military council, we will not deliver the president abroad during our period” in office, Abdin said when asked about the ICC arrest warrant.

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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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Sudan’s doctor-protesters accuse paramilitary unit of torturing civilians to death

The doctors’ committee alleged a total of six civilians have died over the past three days at the hands of the RSF

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Sudan's doctor-protesters accuse paramilitary unit of torturing civilians to death
Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo known as Himediti, deputy head of Sudan's ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) and commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitaries. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

Paramilitary men beat and tortured to death a civilian in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, a doctors committee linked to the country’s protest movement said Tuesday.

The civilian died on Monday in El-Daen, in East Darfur state, after members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) clashed with youths accused of stealing mobile phones, the committee said on its Facebook page.

“Members from Al-Janjaweed (RSF) militia beat and tortured a number of youths…on allegations that the youths had stolen mobile phones,” it said.

“One youth passed away due to torture by Al-Janjaweed,” it said, referring to the RSF which has its origins in the militia that fought ethnic African rebels in Darfur during a civil war that broke out in 2003.

READ: Sudan’s protest leaders and military reach landmark agreement on governing council

Witnesses contacted by telephone backed up the account of the doctors’ committee.

Two witnesses said an RSF unit arrested five youths — accusing them of stealing mobile phones from their base — and took them outside town, where they tortured them and abandoned them on the streets.

One of the victims allegedly died, they said.

After the victim was buried, town residents converged on the RSF base and torched it, while other RSF personnel arrested the unit responsible, the two witnesses said.

An RSF spokesman was unavailable for comment.

The doctors’ committee alleged a total of six civilians have died over the past three days at the hands of the RSF, including four members of a family run over by a vehicle driven by a paramilitary unit in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum.

Generals ‘protect militias’ –

The sixth person was killed by gunfire in El-Souki, in the south-eastern state of Sinnar, as residents protested against the RSF, demanding they leave town, according to the committee and witnesses.

“The continuation of the barbarity and tampering with civilians’ safety daily by Janjaweed (RSF) militias, coupled with not holding them accountable under any law or code of ethics, prove that the Transitional Military Council protects these militias,” the committee said.

READ: Sudan protests: Military kills nine demonstrators during Khartoum sit-in

The protest movement blamed the deaths in El-Souki and El-Daen on the security apparatus and the military council which has ruled Sudan since the ouster in April of longtime President Omar al-Bashir following months of anti-regime demonstrations.

“We hold the security authorities responsible for those killed in El-Daen and El-Souki,” Ismail al-Taj, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association told reporters in Khartoum.

The SPA spearheaded protests against Bashir that broke out in December.

“We demand an independent investigation to identify those who committed these heinous crimes against citizens,” Taj said, adding it was the responsibility of the military council to protect civilians during protests and rallies.

On Monday, scores of protesters demonstrated in parts of the capital, including at night, against the killing in El-Souki.

Protesters and rights groups accuse RSF personnel of having carried out a brutal raid on a protest camp outside military headquarters in Khartoum on June 3 that left dozens dead and hundreds wounded.

READ: Demonstrators killed in Sudan as military breaks sit-in

RSF commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy chief of Sudan’s military council, has portrayed the allegations as part of an attempt to distort the image of his paramilitary force.

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