Photo – Sudanese protesters clash with security forces during an anti-coup protest near the presidential palace in Khartoum.
- Tens of thousands commemorate third anniversary of uprising as pressure mounts on Sudan’s military and prime minister
Tens of thousands of peaceful protesters forced their way through police and army checkpoints to reach the gates of the presidential palace in Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Sunday, witnesses said.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Sudan’s Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan was in the palace at the time.
Sudanese took to the streets of Khartoum and other cities across the country to mark the third anniversary of the start of the uprising that deposed former ruler Omar Al Bashir.
They were also protesting against October’s military takeover and demanding a civilian government.
Behind Sunday’srallies are the Forces for Freedom and Change, the Sudanese Professionals’ Association and the Resistance Committees that engineered four months of street protests and eventually forced the military to remove Al Bashir in April 2019.
Security forces had sealed off roads leading to the palace from at least two kilometres away. Roads leading to the armed forces’ headquarters had also been closed, with troops and police stationed at concrete barriers and barbed wire.
Sunday’s rallies are the latest in a string of street protests triggered by the October 25 military takeover that left at least 44 protesters dead and hundreds injured, and plunged the country into a political crisis that, according to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, endangers Sudan’s unity and stability.
The authorities blocked all except two of the Nile bridges connecting Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri, effectively isolating each of the Sudanese capital’s three districts and preventing the formation of one large gathering at the heart of Khartoum.
Hundreds of troops, police and militia from the Rapid Support Forces were stationed on the bridges to prevent anyone from trying to cross, witnesses said.
As pressure by the protesters mounted in central Khartoum and the two Nile bridges, security forces abandoned their checkpoints, according to the witnesses, allowing the protesters to reach the gates of the palace.
They carried the red, green, white and black flags of Sudan and chanted slogans against the military.
“The revolution belongs to the people, the soldiers must return to their barracks,” they screamed.
Protesters also carried banners bearing images of some of the 45 protesters killed since October 25.
One banner read: “A revolutionary may die, but the idea of revolution never dies.”
Video footage shared online showed protests in cities to the West, north and east of the capital.
“I urge the security forces to respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” the UN envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes, tweeted on Saturday night.
There were no reports of clashes by the early afternoon.
The October 25 coup, led by army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, derailed Sudan’s democratic transition and ended a partnership with the civilian pro-democracy movement behind Al Bashir’s removal. Mr Hamdok was placed under house arrest and his civilian-led government was dismissed.
Gen Al Burhan also declared an indefinite, nationwide state of emergency and said the military would be the chief and only guardian of the democratic transition.
A November 21 agreement to release Mr Hamdok from house arrest and reinstate him has failed to resolve the crisis and has, instead, fuelled the protests.
To the protesters, the deal transformed the prime minister from a symbol of the nation’s hopes and aspirations to a man who betrayed the December Revolution and became beholden to the generals.
“Today, we face a major setback to the path of our revolution that threatens the country’s security, unity and stability; and could be the beginning of a slide into an abyss that will leave us with neither a nation nor a revolution,” Mr Hamdok, a career UN economist before becoming prime minister, said on the eve of the anniversary.
He also called for a new political agreement to serve as a blueprint for the remainder of the transitional period before elections, promised for 2023.
“I want on this occasion to renew my invitation to all revolutionary forces and all those who believe in a civilian democratic transition to agree to a political covenant that addresses the deficits of the past and achieves the remainder of the revolution’s goals,” he said.
He repeated his assertion that he agreed to the November 21 deal to stop the bloodshed, protect the progress made over the past two years and stop Sudan from returning to the international isolation it suffered under Al Bashir’s 29-year rule.
Gen Al Burhan also issued a statement marking the anniversary, in which he repeated pledges to shepherd the nation through its transition to democratic rule.
Pro-democracy activists hold the military and allied militias responsible for the killing of protesters since the coup. They also accuse them of killing more than 100 protesters in June 2019, when security forces broke up a sit-in protest outside the military headquarters in central Khartoum.
Transition at risk
Gen Al Burhan has repeatedly said that the military was investigating the post-October killings, but details including who is probing the violence or when the findings will be released are unknown.
An investigation into the June 2019 killings has stalled, with activists claiming the military stopped it from publishing its findings over fears they would incriminate the army’s top brass.
Sudan’s political crisis is playing out against a backdrop of economic problems and a worsening security situation in the western region of Darfur, where ethnic tensions remain unresolved more than a decade after a war in the region ended.
The couphas sparked strong international condemnation and the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid needed to help Sudan overhaul its battered economy. The African Union has also suspended Sudan’s membership.
On Thursday, the US, the UK, the UAE and Saudi Arabia said they were “encouraged” by the November 21 deal as “a first step” to resolving Sudan’s political crisis and putting the country’s transition back on track.
The quartetalso urged the Sudanese authorities to lift the state of emergency declared by Gen Al Burhan, stressing “the importance of the early publication of a credible road map towards elections in late 2023 or early 2024″.
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