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Talks between Sudan protesters and army rulers postponed indefinitely

At Friday’s talks, the two sides were to finalise a “Constitutional Declaration” to thrash out crucial remaining issues

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Talks between Sudan protesters and army rulers postponed indefinitely
(Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP)

Sudanese protest leaders told reporters Friday talks with the country’s army rulers have been postponed, just days after the two sides signed a power-sharing deal.

“The talks have been postponed,” said prominent protest leader Omar al-Digeir.

“We need more internal consultation to reach a united vision,” he added, with no new date set for negotiations to resume.

Another protest leader, Siddig Youssef, also confirmed the talks had been suspended.

On Wednesday, the two sides signed a “Political Declaration” that aims to form a joint civilian-military ruling body, which in turn would install an overall transitional civilian administration for a period of 39 months.

At Friday’s talks, the two sides were to finalise a “Constitutional Declaration” to thrash out crucial remaining issues.

They include whether to give immunity to generals accused of being behind violence against protesters, the formation of a transitional parliament and the role of paramilitaries.

However, protest leaders said that the three rebel groups that are part of the umbrella protest movement had expressed reservations over Wednesday’s deal.

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

“I’m going to Addis Ababa to meet the Sudan Revolutionary Front to get their opinion,” Digeir said, referring to the rebel groups currently based in Ethiopia.

“They are not happy with” the agreement signed with army leaders, Youssef said.

The groups had been fighting government forces for years in the regions of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Sources close to negotiations told reporters that these groups have demanded that the “Constitutional Declaration” specify that peace negotiations in the three conflict zones would be a top priority for the new transitional government.

Once such a peace deal is finalised, sources said the rebel groups want their representatives to be part of the transitional government.

They also called for the extradition from Sudan of those accused by the Hague-based International Criminal Court of a litany of crimes, including ousted leader Omar al-Bashir.

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Sudanese leaders sign historic deal for civilian rule

The deal was signed by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, deputy chief of the military council, and Ahmed al-Rabie for the AFC.

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Sudanese leaders sign historic deal for civilian rule
Sudan's protest leader Ahmad Rabie (C-R), flashes the victory gesture alongside General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (C-L), the chief of Sudan's ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC), during a ceremony where they signed a "constitutional declaration" that paves the way for a transition to civilian rule, in the capital Khartoum on August 17, 2019, accompanied by South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit (C, behind), Chadian President Idriss Deby (L), and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (R). - The agreement was signed by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, deputy chief of the military council, and Ahmed al-Rabie, representing the Alliance for Freedom and Change protest umbrella group, an AFP reporter said. Heads of state, prime ministers and dignitaries from several countries attended the ceremony in Khartoum. (Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP)

Rapturous crowds filled the streets of Khartoum Saturday as Sudan’s generals and protest leaders signed a historic deal paving the way to civilian rule. 

Thousands of cheering people gathered around the Friendship Hall next to the Nile, where the documents that will govern Sudan’s 39-month transition were signed.

A young Sudanese girl waves a national flag as people celebrate outside the Friendship Hall in the capital Khartoum where generals and protest leaders signed a historic transitional constitution meant to pave the way for civilian rule in Sudan, on August 17, 2019. (Photo by Jean Marc MOJON / AFP)

“This is the biggest celebration I have ever seen in my country. We have a new Sudan,” said Saba Mohammed, a veiled 37-year woman, waving a small plastic flag.

Minutes earlier, the deal was signed by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, deputy chief of the military council, and Ahmed al-Rabie, representing the Alliance for Freedom and Change protest umbrella.

Heads of state, prime ministers and dignitaries from several countries — including Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Egypt’s premier Mustafa Madbuli — attended the ceremony.

The constitutional declaration formalises the creation of a transition administration that will be guided by an 11-member sovereign council, comprised of six civilians and five military figures.

The agreement brought an end to nearly eight months of upheaval that saw masses mobilise against President Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in April after 30 years in power.

Thousands of people had arrived on trains from Sudan’s provinces to take part in the celebrations, which will include a huge gathering in Khartoum’s main gardens.

Sudanese men celebrate outside the Friendship Hall in the capital Khartoum where generals and protest leaders signed a historic transitional constitution meant to pave the way for civilian rule in Sudan, on August 17, 2019. (Photo by Jean Marc MOJON / AFP)

“We hope Sudan can move forward now, we want to be proud of our country,” said Saida Khalifa as she got off the train after an all-night ride from Atbara, the town where the protests started in December last year.

“The guns must go silent now and we must pull the country out of this mess to gain peace and freedom,” she said.

New institutions

The composition of the civilian-majority transition ruling council is to be announced on Sunday.

That follows the naming on Thursday of former senior UN official Abdalla Hamdok, a veteran economist, as transitional prime minister.

He is expected to focus on stabilising Sudan’s economy, which went into a tailspin when the oil-rich south seceded in 2011. 

Economic woes were the trigger that sparked the initial protests.

At Khartoum’s central market early Saturday, shoppers and stallholders interviewed by AFP all said they hoped a civilian government would help them put food on the table.

“Everybody is happy now,” said Ali Yusef, a 19-year-old university student who works in the market to get by.

“We were under the control of the military for 30 years but today we are leaving this behind us and moving towards civilian rule,” he said, sitting next to tomatoes piled directly on the ground.

“All these vegetables around are very expensive but now I’m sure they will become cheaper.”

While it remains to be seen how the transition will change people’s daily lives, residents old and young were eager to exercise their newfound freedom of expression.

“I’m 72 and for 30 years under Bashir, I had nothing to feel good about. Now, thanks to God, I am starting to breathe,” said Ali Issa Abdel Momen, sitting in front of his modest selection of vegetables at the market.

But many Sudanese are already questioning the ability of the transitional institutions to rein in the military elite’s powers during the three-year period leading to planned elections.

End of isolation?

The country of 40 million people will be ruled by an 11-member sovereign council and a government, which under the deal must be dominated by civilians.

However, the interior and defence ministers are to be chosen by military members of the council.

Observers have warned that the transitional government will have little leverage to counter any attempt by the military to roll back the uprising’s achievements and seize back power.

Security forces deployed across Khartoum Saturday for the biggest international event in years in Sudan, which had become something of a pariah country under Bashir’s rule.

One of the most immediate diplomatic consequences of the compromise reached this month could be Sudan’s return to the African Union, which suspended the country’s membership in June.

Bashir, who took power in a 1989 coup and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide in the Darfur region, had been slated to appear in court Saturday on corruption charges.

But his trial has been postponed to an as-yet-undetermined date.

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Uganda and Zambia deny reports Hauwei spied on political opponents

Huawei is facing pushback in some Western markets over suspicions that it provides a backdoor for Chinese intelligence services.

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Huawei Technologies Co

Uganda and Zambia on Friday denied a report that employees of Chinese telecom giant Huawei had helped them spy on political opponents.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported this week that Huawei technicians helped the two African governments intercept communications and social media activity of their opponents, while also tracking their movements.

The article also reported that Huawei operated a video and cyber surveillance system in Algeria, which the company denied.

Algeria’s foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment

In Uganda, WSJ reported that Huawei technicians helped Ugandan authorities use spyware to monitor pop star turned opposition icon Bobi Wine.

Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, became a lawmaker in 2017 and is preparing to challenge President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda’s 2021 presidential election. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, Huawei’s assistance enabled Ugandan authorities to disrupt Wine’s plans for concerts they feared would turn into political rallies. 

“It is totally false to claim Huawei helped African governments among them Uganda spy on its political opponents,” Ugandan presidential spokesman Don Wanyama told reporters. “Why spy on Bobi Wine?”

Trump Blacklist

Meanwhile Zambian government spokeswoman Dora Siliya on Twitter slammed the WSJ report, which said Huawei technicians helped authorities spy on opposition bloggers running a news site critical of President Edgar Lungu.

Dora Siliya’s tweet

Huawei is the world’s number two smartphone producer and is considered the global leader in fifth-generation or 5G equipment.

But it is facing pushback in some Western markets over suspicions that it provides a backdoor for Chinese intelligence services. 

There are also concerns that Huawei’s involvement in the development of foreign 5G networks could enable Beijing to gain access to critical infrastructure.

It has been blacklisted by US President Donald Trump purportedly because of espionage concerns. 

Uganda’s ‘Wind of change’

The Wall Street Journal said its reporting “didn’t turn up evidence of spying by or on behalf of Beijing in Africa”. 

But it described how an official with the Chinese Embassy in Kampala accompanied Ugandan officials to China where they visited Huawei’s headquarters and received “details on the surveillance systems it has built around the world”.  

In a Twitter post Thursday, the embassy said the report was “PURE FAKE NEWS and TOTALLY GROUNDLESS!”

via Chinese embassy in Uganda’s official twitter feed

Wine, who has been detained multiple times since entering politics, told reporters Friday that the spying claims were “not surprising” but warned Museveni that underhanded efforts to stop his political rise would fail.

“Let him be reminded that Ugandans hold the key to their problems and no foreign interventions can stop the wind of change in the country,” he said. 

The WSJ article also said that a team of Ugandan security officials had visited the Algerian capital in 2017 to study a video surveillance system that included mass monitoring and cyber-surveillance centers.

One official told the newspaper that during their visit they had discussed “hacking individuals in the opposition who can threaten national security”.

Huawei in a statement rejected the “unfounded and false allegations about its commercial operations in Algeria, Uganda and Zambia.”

The statement said that Huawei’s professional code of conduct prevents any activity that compromises the data or private life of its clients.

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17 foreign seamen abducted off Cameroon coast

The Gulf of Guinea, whose coastline stretches in a huge arc from Liberia to Gabon, is notorious for piracy.

Kathleen Ndongmo

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Douala harbor

Nine Chinese and eight Ukrainian seamen were kidnapped in attacks on two merchant ships off Cameroon, in the latest act of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, sources said Friday.

The attacks took place on Thursday in Cameroonian waters off the port of Douala, located at the apex of a gulf that has become a hotspot of seaborne crime.

A Douala official told reporters on Friday that a total of 17 people had been abducted, including “nine Chinese civilian sailors” from one of the ships.

A Cameroonian security official, likewise speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the account.

The Cameroonian navy and the country’s port service had reported the kidnappings on Thursday but had been unable to give the number or nationality of those taken.

A navy source said the kidnappers “are probably Nigerian pirates,” adding that Cameroon’s security forces had launched a search for them.

The Gulf of Guinea, whose coastline stretches in a huge arc from Liberia to Gabon, is notorious for piracy as well as oil theft, illegal fishing and human and drugs trafficking.

In Malaysia, Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a watchdog agency, said the 17 seamen were seized from two ships that were attacked within hours of each other while they were anchored off Douala.

Choong said one of the ships was a multipurpose German-owned ship that flew the flag of Antigua and Barbuda. 

“Eight crew were kidnapped from the ship, consisting of a total of 12 Asian and European sailors,” he said.

The other vessel was a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier managed in Greece with a Greek owner.

“There were 21 crew on board. All were Asians. Nine crew were taken,” Choong said.

“(The) IMB has issued a warning to all ships at Douala. We ask all ships to take additional precaution.”

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement quoted by news agencies that three of the kidnapped sailors were Russian nationals. Many Ukrainians also hold Russian citizenship.

Piracy epicentre

In recent years, the seas off West Africa have become “the world’s worst for pirate attacks,” according to the IMB.

Attacks doubled in the Gulf of Guinea in 2018 compared to the previous year – the bulk of them due to piracy, it said. 

Of the 75 seafarers taken hostage in the first half of this year, 62 were abducted in the gulf, IMB figures showed.

The Gulf of Guinea now accounts for 73 percent of kidnappings and 92 percent of hostage-takings at sea worldwide, particularly off the coast of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon.

The 17 countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea and adjacent coastline have limited surveillance and maritime defence capabilities.

They have been trying for several years to bolster their means of intervention and to put in place closer collaboration.

Ten Turkish sailors were freed last week after being kidnapped by “pirates” off Nigeria last month. Pirates normally seize sailors hoping to be paid ransom.

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