Sudan police fire tear gas as civil disobedience campaign starts | News

Sudanese police have fired tear gas at protesters taking part in a “civil disobedience” campaign, called in the wake of a deadly crackdown on demonstrators, that began on Sunday.

Protesters gathered tyres, tree trunks and rocks to build new roadblocks in Khartoum’s northern Bahari district, an unnamed witness told AFP news agency, but riot police swiftly moved in and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

“Almost all internal roads of Bahari have roadblocks. Protesters are even stopping residents from going to work,” said the witness.

The latest bid by demonstrators to close off streets in the capital comes nearly a week after a deadly raid on a sit-in outside the army headquarters that killed dozens.

The bloody crackdown last Monday prompted the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which first launched protests against longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in December, to announce the campaign.

“The civil disobedience movement will begin Sunday and end only when a civilian government announces itself in power on state television,” the SPA said in a statement earlier.

“Disobedience is a peaceful act capable of bringing to its knees the most powerful weapons arsenal in the world.”

Political outcome?

Waleed Madibo, from the Sudan Policy Forum, said the campaign is unlikely to bring down the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC), but it could divide its leaders.

“By using violence as an imperative, it [the military] left the civic society no option but to go through with civil disobedience. They’re already rounding up political dissidents, they started assassinating leaders of the sit-in, and by doing so the Transitional Military Council has totally eliminated any chance of a political outcome,” Madibo told Al Jazeera.

Led by men in army fatigues, the raid on the weeks-long sit-in outside the army complex left at least 113 people dead, according to doctors close to the demonstrators.

The health ministry, however, said 61 people died in the crackdown, 52 of them by “live ammunition” in Khartoum.

Witnesses say the assault was led by the feared Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which has its origins in the notorious Janjaweed militia, accused of abuses in the Darfur conflict between 2003 and 2004.

Also on Sunday, Sudanese state TV reported that a senior RSF commander, Mohamed Abdallah, had been replaced.

Sudan protesters Khartoum

Protesters wave national flags at the sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum in May 2019 [File: Salih Basheer/AP]

Mediation talks

The call for “civil disobedience” came a day after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Khartoum, seeking to revive talks between the generals and protest leaders on the country’s transition.

The TMC seized power in April after removing al-Bashir on the back of months-long protests against his nearly 30-year rule.

Since then, it has resisted calls from protesters and Western nations to transfer power to a civilian administration.

Several rounds of talks with the demonstrators finally broke down in mid-May.

In a bid to revive the negotiations, the Ethiopian prime minister held separate meetings with the two sides in Khartoum on Friday.

“The army, the people and political forces have to act with courage and responsibility by taking quick steps towards a democratic and consensual transitional period,” Abiy said in a statement after the meetings.

“The army has to protect the security of the country and its people and political forces have to think about the future of the country.”

But three members of an opposition delegation who met the Ethiopian prime minister were later arrested, their aides said on Saturday.

Opposition politician Mohamed Esmat was arrested on Friday, and Ismail Jalab, a leader of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), was taken from his home. SPLM-N spokesman Mubarak Ardol was also arrested.

Esmat and Jalab are both leading members of the Alliance for Freedom and Change, an umbrella of opposition parties and some rebel groups.

The alliance, of which the SPA is a key member, was the main organiser of mass protests since December that led to al-Bashir’s removal.

Khartoum tense

The arrest of leaders threatens to further complicate efforts to reconcile the protest movement and the generals.

“The Transitional Military Council is not really serious about negotiating with civilians. This could not have been more blatant in the eye of the opposition and it certainly paralyses any effort to move forward in negotiations,” Eric Reeves, a researcher on Sudan at Harvard University, told Al Jazeera.

Since the crackdown, Khartoum residents have mostly been sheltering indoors and the streets have been deserted. RSF members and soldiers on Saturday cleared major Khartoum streets of roadblocks put up by protesters.

The RSF chief and deputy head of the TMC, Lieutenant-General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, warned he will not tolerate “any chaos”.

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