Thursday, 20th June 2019

East Africa

Sudan's Bashir charged with corruption, in 1st appearance since April

Sudan’s ex-president Omar al-Bashir was charged with corruption-related offences on Sunday, as he appeared in public for the first time since he was overthrown and detained in April.

Looking much the same as prior to his removal by the military, he was driven to the prosecutor’s office in Khartoum.

He was charged with illicit possession of foreign currency and accepting gifts in an unofficial manner, prosecutor Alaa al-Din Abdallah told media, adding that Bashir would be given the chance to respond to the accusations.

His trial will be a test of how serious the country’s transitional military council is about trying to erase the legacy of his autocratic 30-year rule, marked by widespread violence, economic collapse and the secession of South Sudan.

Bashir was charged last month with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters, and prosecutors also want him questioned over suspected money laundering and terrorism financing.

Sudan’s chief prosecutor said on Saturday that 41 former officials from Bashir’s administration were being investigated for suspected graft. 


The military overthrew and detained Bashir on April 11 after 16 weeks of street protests against his rule.

But despite his ouster, Sudan remains paralysed by a political standoff between a transitional military council and a coalition of protesters and opposition parties demanding a civilian-led administration during a planned transition to democracy.

Talks on a power-sharing deal have collapsed, and tensions soared on June 3 when security forces stormed a protest camp in Khartoum being maintained as a way to press military rulers to hand over power.

Protesters put the number of dead from the incursion at 128, and the health ministry at 61.

Military investigators on Saturday said that government officers of various ranks were found to have been responsible for the dispersal of the camp without approval. 

Addressing supporters at the presidential palace, the deputy head of the military council said on Sunday it was ready to accept nominees for top government positions proposed by the coalition.

“We are actually not in dispute and we are partners in this glorious revolution,” General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo said. “They say a technocratic government and we are ready”.


Sudan protesters reject army election plan after deadly crackdown

Sudan's protest movement called on Tuesday for fresh rallies and rejected the military rulers' election plan after nearly 40 people were killed in what demonstrators called a "bloody massacre" by security forces.

Protest leaders called on their supporters to take part in "total civil disobedience" to topple the ruling military council following the deadly dispersal on Monday of a weeks-long sit-in outside the army headquarters in Khartoum.

The Transitional Military Council ousted veteran president Omar al-Bashir in April after months of protests against his authoritarian rule and had agreed a three-year transition period to a civilian administration.

But army ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said the plan had been ditched and an election would take place under "regional and international supervision".

Sudan's military calls for snap elections within nine months

Sudan's Transitional Military Council said on Tuesday it had canceled all previous agreements with the main opposition coalition and called for snap elections following deadly violence in the capital Khartoum after security forces moved to disperse t

"The military council decides on the following: cancelling what was agreed on and stopping negotiating with the Alliance for Freedom and Change, and to call for general elections within a period not exceeding nine months," Burhan said.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded protests against Bashir, rejected the call.

"It's not the putschist council, nor its militias, nor its leaders who decide the fate of the people, nor how it will transition to a civilian government," it said.

Eid prayers for 'martyrs' 

The SPA said Monday's action against the sit-in amounted to a "bloody massacre" and urged the global community "to isolate and stop dealing with the so-called military council".

It also called for an independent investigation into the killings under international supervision.

The Transitional Military Council said it "regrets" the events, calling it a "clean-up operation" that went wrong.

The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors - which is close to the protesters - said 40 people had been killed on Monday and Tuesday, mostly at the sit in. Hundreds were wounded.

Among the dead was an eight-year-old child, it added.

An 18-year-old was also killed on Tuesday "by the bullets of the military council's militias" in the southern town of Rebek.

The Sudanese Doctors Union accused security forces of attacks on hospitals and staff across the country, and alleged some women had been raped in an area of the capital without giving details of how the group had learned of the assaults.

A bid by the UN Security Council to condemn the killing of civilians and call on the military and protesters to work together was blocked by China, who was backed by Russia, during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday.

Eight European countries - Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, The Netherlands and Sweden - instead issued their own joint statement criticising "the violent attacks in Sudan by Sudanese security services against civilians".

The United States, Britain and Norway earlier issued a joint statement condemning the military's election plan.

Top US envoy David Hale, under secretary of state for political affairs, also underlined the importance of a transition to a civilian-led government in a phone call with the Saudi deputy defence minister, Khalid bin Salman, the US Department of State said.

African and Western governments have been strongly supportive of the protesters but Arab governments, led by Saudi Arabia, have backed the military rulers.

Moussa Faki, head of the African Union Commission, also backed "an immediate and transparent investigation".

City centre deserted 

Tensions remained high across Khartoum Tuesday, with heavily armed members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, thought to have been largely behind the crackdown, deployed in large numbers.

Protest leaders said the large square outside army HQ where demonstrators had camped out day and night since April 6 had been cleared.

Despite the security presence and internet outages, residents of some areas of the capital still came out to mark the Eid al-Fitr festival a day early and to protest.

In Omdurman, just across the Nile from Khartoum, a witness said by phone that the Rapid Support Forces were trying to disperse demonstrators who had put up barricades by "firing live rounds in the air".

"We gathered in our square as we usually do every year but the Rapid Support Forces and the police fired teargas and soundbombs at us and after the prayers the youth closed the main street by putting up barricades," a resident of the Bahri area told AFP.

Other streets around the city centre were almost deserted, with many markets and shops closed and almost no cars on the roads.

Flights into Khartoum were disrupted as airlines monitored developments on the ground.


Ethiopia PM presses plan to return displaced people after violence

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister on Thursday pursued a plan to return displaced people to their homes following ethnic violence, meeting communities who recently went home, as relief workers voiced fears that the initiative could provoke fresh violence.

Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April 2018, has won international plaudits for announcing bold reform pledges, but the blossoming of political freedoms over the past year has been accompanied by a surge in ethnic violence.

Rivalries between ethnic groups — once repressed by a state with an iron fist — have exploded into the open, and the United Nations says 2.4 million Ethiopians are currently displaced due to these conflicts. More people were displaced last year in the Horn of Africa nation than in any other country, according to data published this month.

Earlier this month the government announced it was scaling up its plan to return displaced people to their homes as soon as possible, a message Abiy reinforced on Thursday when his office published photos of him speaking with people from the Gedeo and West Guji areas in southern Ethiopia who had recently returned to their homes.

The area was the site of brutal violence last year — Reuters spoke in August to the family of a coffee farmer whose limbs were chopped off by a mob of young men. About 700,000 people fled ethnic violence in the area last year. 

Abiy’s delegation, which included his Minsiter of Peace Muferiat Kamil, provided the communities with building materials to rebuild their homes — razed last year during the violence — and the prime minister planted seedlings, according to a statement from his office.

The upbeat message contrasts with the views of aid groups and experts who say many of the displaced people are terrified by the prospect of returning to their homelands now, before the causes of the violence along ethnic lines have been resolved.

“Pushing people to return to their home communities prematurely will only add to the ongoing suffering,” Refugees International said in a statement his month in response to what it called the government’s “forced returns”.

“There is a risk of further violence that stems from the very ambitious return targets,” said William Davison, senior Ethiopia analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“The problem is there may be lingering resentment and disputes over land and property if adequate work has not been done to assess the situation for returnees and ensure relations have improved,” he said. 

An aid worker who spoke on condition of anonymity due to tensions between aid groups and the government over the plan said that displaced people “don’t have a voice” in the matter — contradicting the government’s repeated assertions.

The person said that in the past two weeks the government has deployed soldiers in the Gedeo area to dismantle camps, telling people who fled violence last year in the Guji area that they must bundle up their few belongings and head home or have them destroyed.

The Prime Minister’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment on whether the army has been involved.


Sudan's opposition observes first day of strike

Sudan’s alliance of opposition and protest groups held the first day of a strike on Tuesday as tensions mounted with the country’s military rulers over the transition to democracy.

Talks between the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) alliance are at a standstill despite weeks of negotiations over whether civilians or the military will have the upper hand after the ousting of long-time president Omar al-Bashir last month.

Most staff in the medical sector, electricity offices and employees at the central bank as well as commercial banks observed the strike but other sectors were only partially affected.

Many shops remained open while buses were still transporting residents, a Reuters witness said. The airport in Khartoum was operating normally, a civil aviation authority source and state news agency SUNA said. 

The DFCF had said the two-day strike would encompass public and private enterprise, including the civil aviation, railway, petroleum, banking, communications and health sectors.

If an agreement was not reached with the TMC, the DFCF would escalate by calling for an open strike and indefinite civil disobedience until power is handed to civilians, Wagdy Saleh, a representative of a coalition within the DFCF, told a news conference.

Saleh also said the TMC had demanded a two-thirds majority of eight to three on the sovereign council that will lead the country. The DFCF alliance wants civilians to dominate the council.

The deputy head of the TMC, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, said on Monday that the council was ready to hand over power swiftly, but that the opposition was not being serious about sharing power and wanted to confine the military to a ceremonial role. 

The TMC has suggested that elections should be held if an agreement cannot be reached between the sides.

The military ousted and detained Bashir on April 11, ending his 30-year rule after 16 weeks of street protests against him.


Somalia protests after its officials deported by Kenya

Somalia has criticised neighbouring Kenya for deporting two Somali lawmakers and a minister after authorities in Nairobi blocked them from entering the country.

Senators Ilyas Ali and Zamzam Dahir and minister Osman Liban arrived at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) on Monday and were forced to spend hours there before being returned to Somalia on Tuesday.

In a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday, Somalia’s ministry of foreign affairs protested their detention and deportation.

“Somalia is concerned that several members of the Somali government ... were detained by immigration officials, their passports confiscated, forcing them to return to Mogadishu,” the letter said.

It added that the actions risked hurting relations between the two and asked Kenya “to consider the potentially destabilising impact of these actions and to uphold ... diplomatic norms in the spirit of reciprocity and mutual respect”.

Kenyan presidential spokesperson Kanze Dena did not immediately return a call from Reuters seeking comment.

Relations between the two nations have been tested in the past by security measures taken by Kenyan authorities to try to stop attacks by Islamist group al Shabaab that Somalis often complain are sweeping and amount to collective punishment.

Kenya hosts a large refugee and non-refugee Somali population. It is also a contributor of troops to the African Union (AU)-backed peacekeeping force AMISOM that helps defend Somalia’s central government from al Shabaab.

The Kenyan deployment in Somalia has in turn frequently been the target of retaliatory attacks by the militant group.

Gripped by insecurity and lawlessness since the 1990s, Somalia is eager to keep warm relations with neighbours, which the government sees as essential to its efforts to stabilise the country.

But Kenya and other neighbours also keep a wary eye on the Horn of Africa nation, eager to stop any potential spillovers of Islamist violence. Somalia and Kenya have also had maritime territorial disputes in the past.


Sudanese military and opposition resume talks after street violence

Sudan’s ruling military council restarted talks late on Sunday with an alliance of protest and opposition groups that is pushing for a civilian-led transition to democracy.

Both sides have signalled that they are close to an agreement over a three-year transition, but more than six hours of overnight talks at the presidential palace in Khartoum failed to produce a breakthrough.

The negotiations are due to resume on Monday evening.

The Transitional Military Council (TMC) had suspended the talks late on Wednesday after two outbreaks of violence around protest sites in Khartoum.

Street protests and a sit-in outside the Defence Ministry have continued since the army ousted and arrested former President Omar al-Bashir on April 11.

Demonstrators are calling for a rapid transition to civilian rule, and demanding justice over the deaths of dozens of people killed since protests triggered by an economic crisis and decades of repressive rule spread across Sudan from Dec. 19.

The TMC and the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) have agreed on a three-year transition before elections, but have been deadlocked over whether civilians or the military would control a sovereign council that would hold ultimate power.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded protests against Bashir and heads the DFCF, has accused the TMC of dragging its feet in the talks and has sought to increase pressure on the council by expanding protests.

It also held the TMC responsible for street violence over the past week in which several protesters were killed and dozens wounded.

The council accused protesters of not respecting an understanding on de-escalation while talks were under way.


Sudanese forces disperse protest in Khartoum North: Reuters witness

Sudanese police and Rapid Support Forces used tear gas on Monday to disperse dozens of protesters in Khartoum North and removed barriers they had set up on a main street leading to the heart of the capital, a Reuters witness said.

The dispersal came as stalled talks between the opposition and the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) resumed.

The protesters had gathered to pile pressure on the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) to hand power to civilians. The forces moved against the demonstrators after they had blocked a road leading to al-Mek Nimir Bridge, a main artery of Khartoum.

A Reuters witness said police, backed by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, dismantled barriers that were erected by protesters at the entrance to the bridge, causing traffic jams. The forces also dispersed about 100 protesters, but there were no reports of casualties.

Traffic in the capital had come to a near standstill, the Reuters witness said. 

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which spearheaded demonstrations that led to the ousting on April 11 of long-time president Omar al-Bashir, has been locked in negotiations with the TMC over a proposed joint civilian-military body to oversee the country.

Protesters, demanding a swift handover of power to civilians, have been camped out outside the Defence Ministry compound in central Khartoum since April 6.


Sudan risks counter coup without deal on transition -opposition leader

Sudan could face a counter coup if military rulers and the opposition do not reach agreement on a handover of power to civilians, leading opposition figure and former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi said on Thursday.

Mahdi, Sudan’s last democratically elected premier, said hardliners in ousted president Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) and its allies in the army would try to exploit the uncertainty to seize power.

“For them to attempt a counter coup is most probable. All the time they are conspiring,” Mahdi, 83, said in an interview with Reuters at his home in the capital Khartoum.

“The whole group is well versed in conspiracy. The conspiratorial mind is ingrained in them.”

Mahdi was himself overthrown in a bloodless coup by Bashir in 1989 and imprisoned.

Bashir fell after weeks of mass demonstrations and the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, the main protest organiser, called for a million-strong march to take place later on Thursday to press for civilian rule.

Mahdi predicted that Sudan’s generals would relinquish power if the current stalemate were broken.

“I think their intentions are good,” he said of the senior army officers who overthrew Bashir on April 11, three decades after he himself seized power, and then formed the TMC.

“They are not interested in a military government,” he said, an outcome which the African Union has said would be unacceptable.

On Wednesday, the opposition and the TMC agreed to form a committee to resolve their disagreements, amid tensions over how long it would take to move to civilian government in Sudan, where widespread impoverishment has been entrenched by systemic financial mismanagement, corruption and cronyism. 

The generals have offered some concessions, sacking some officials, announcing the arrest of others, including two of Bashir’s brothers, and ordering steps to curb fraud.

But they have insisted that, while they are willing to accept a civilian transitional government, ultimate authority will remain in their hands until elections are held up to two years from now.

Mahdi’s Umma party is engaged in the negotiations. Asked if he was interested in ruling Sudan now, Mahdi said: “I will not take part in government until and unless we have elections.”

Reflecting on the turbulent history of Sudan under Bashir including multiple armed rebellions, economic crises and allegations of war crimes in Darfur, Mahdi recalled what he said was the day that Bashir began leading Sudan to failure.

“I was praying at home. Dawn prayers. And they surrounded my house,” he said of the 1989 coup which took him completely by surprise.

After Mahdi was initially jailed, he said he was taken to a what he described as a ghost house. Three men confronted him.

“You can save yourself if you record here that democracy has failed,” he quoted them as saying.

He refused. “They took me back to an execution cell.” For the next two years he was jailed and put under house arrest.

Mahdi said he had met with intelligence chief Salah Gosh and acting NCP chairman Ahmed Haroun on April 10, the day before Bashir was ousted, after they asked to see him.

The two men threatened to use force to disperse a protester sit-in outside the Defence Ministry, he said. Mahdi said he told them he would join the sit-in to help protect the protesters. 

“At this point Haroun said, ‘You will not find them because they will be crushed,’” said Mahdi.

Reuters could not independently verify this account. Gosh could not be reached for comment, while Haroun was arrested and jailed after Bashir’s removal.

Bashir is now languishing in the same, high-security Kobar prison where he sent Mahdi 30 years ago, and where the veteran autocrat held thousands of political detainees. “Kobar is a collection of who’s who in Sudanese politics,” said Mahdi.


Sudan's military council and opposition wrangle over transition

Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) and opposition forces appeared on a collision course on Monday amid deepening differences over demands for civilian rule more than 10 days after the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir.

The TMC warned on Monday against people blocking roads and limiting the movement of citizens, signaling a possible move against thousands of protesters who are camping outside the Defence Ministry and blocking some roads outside the compound in downtown Khartoum.

The council also said it was unacceptable that some young people were acting as police and security services, in violation of the law, a reference to youths who have been searching protesters taking part at the sit-in.

“We request the honourable citizens to help clear these negative features that impact the lives of citizens and the security of the country,” the TMC said in a statement, adding that roads and access ways for public transportation would “be opened immediately”.

The TMC and the opposition have traded threats since Sunday.

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), the main organiser of the protests, said on Sunday it would suspend talks with the Council.

“We have decided to opt for escalation with the military council, not to recognise its legitimacy and to continue the sit-in and escalate the protests on the streets,” Mohamed al-Amin Abdel-Aziz of the SPA told crowds outside the Defence Ministry on Sunday. 


The opposition, led by the umbrella Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change that includes the SPA, has insisted on a swift handover of power to civilians.

They have said a civilian transitional council with military representation should be set up to run Sudan for a transition that the TMC has said could last up to two years.

The SPA has also called for sweeping changes to end a violent crackdown on dissent, purge corruption and cronyism and ease an economic crisis that worsened during the last years of Bashir’s 30-year rule.

The military council, led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has issued a series of decisions that appeared aimed at satisfying some of the demands.

Burhan said on Monday that Bashir, who had been held at the presidential residence after his ouster, is now at Khartoum’s high-security Kobar prison. Family sources had said last week he had been moved there.

Several top members of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party have been arrested, and the TMC said it would retire all eight of the officers ranked lieutenant general in the feared National Intelligence and Security Service.

A series of anti-corruption and anti-graft measures have also been announced.

The protesters have kept up the sit-in outside the ministry compound, which also houses the presidential residence, since Bashir was removed on April 11. Led by the SPA, they have demonstrated in large numbers in recent days.

TMC head Burhan told state TV on Sunday that the formation of a joint military-civilian council was being considered. “The issue has been put forward for discussion and a vision has yet to be reached,” he said.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said on Sunday they had agreed to send Sudan $3 billion worth of aid, throwing a lifeline to the country’s new military leaders.


Sudan's Bashir transferred to prison - family source

Ousted Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has been transferred to a Khartoum prison following his toppling by the army last week, a source from his family told AFP on Wednesday.

"Last night, Bashir was transferred to Kober prison in Khartoum," the source said without revealing his name for security reasons.

Bashir was ousted by the army last Thursday after four months of protests against his three decades of iron-fisted rule. The country's new military rulers had said he was being held "in a secure place".

Witnesses said there was a heavy deployment of soldiers and members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Force outside the prison in north Khartoum.


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