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Sudan braces for Saturday protests against bloody military coup

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Sudanese anti-coup protesters plan to flood the streets Saturday to demonstrate against a military takeover that has derailed the country’s transition to civilian rule and triggered deadly clashes.

The military on Monday detained Sudan’s civilian leadership, dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency, leading to a chorus of international condemnation.

Street protests erupted against the coup, triggering a crackdown by the security forces that has left dead at least eight demonstrators and wounded around 170.

Despite the bloodshed, the protesters remain defiant, with organisers hoping to stage a “million-strong” march against the military’s power grab on Saturday.

“We will not be ruled by the military. That is the message we will convey” at the protests, said Sudanese rights activist Tahani Abbas.

“The military forces are bloody and unjust and we are anticipating what is about to happen on the streets,” Abbas said. “But we are no longer afraid.”

Monday’s takeover was led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan — Sudan’s de facto leader since the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir after huge youth-led protests.

Several pro-democracy activists have been arrested.

On the eve of Saturday’s rallies, a US official put the death toll at between 20 and 30, adding the protests would be a “real test” of the intentions of Sudan’s military.

“We call on the security forces to refrain from any and all violence against protesters and to fully respect the citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully,” the official in Washington said on condition of anonymity.

Phone lines were largely down by Saturday morning, as security forces deployed in large numbers on the streets and blocked bridges connecting the capital, Khartoum, with neighbouring cities.

Security forces set up random checkpoints on main roads, randomly frisking passers-by and searching cars.

Britain’s special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Robert Fairweather urged Sudan’s security forces to “respect freedom and right of expression” for protesters.

“Peaceful protest is a fundamental democratic right. The security services and their leaders will bear responsibility for any violence towards any protesters,” he said on Twitter.

‘Grave setback’

Sudan has been led since August 2019 by a civilian-military ruling council, alongside Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s government, as part of the now stalled transition to full civilian rule.

Hamdok himself was briefly detained before he was released and placed under effective house arrest. Other civilian leaders and ministers are still being held.

Days of unrest have rocked Khartoum and other cities.

Protesters have barricaded roads with rocks, debris and burning tyres.

Shops have largely been shuttered, and government employees have refused to work as part of a campaign of civil disobedience.

“The Sudanese people are determined to… win back the gains of the December 2018 revolution” against Bashir, said Abdelgelil al-Basha from the capital’s twin city of Omdurman.

Burhan, a senior general under Bashir’s three decades of iron-fisted rule, has insisted the military takeover “was not a coup” but only meant to “rectify the course of the Sudanese transition”.

The move triggered a wave of international condemnation and several punitive measures, with the World Bank and the United States freezing aid — a heavy blow to a country already mired in a dire economic crisis.

US President Joe Biden has called the coup a “grave setback”, while the African Union has suspended Sudan’s membership for the “unconstitutional” takeover.

On Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the military to show restraint as he reaffirmed his “strong condemnation” of the coup.

“People must be allowed to demonstrate peacefully,” Guterres said.

Monday’s power grab was the latest coup to hit impoverished Sudan, which has enjoyed only rare democratic interludes since independence in 1956 and spent decades riven by civil war.

(AFP)

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