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Deadly protests as demonstrators mark one year since military coup

Tuesday’s protests were held “to denounce the one-year anniversary of the military coup in Sudan against a civilian authority that came after a great struggle and a great revolution. They indicate our rejection of the coup and not surrender and our demand for the return of civilian rule,” Tahani Abbas, a prominent human rights defender and member of the ‘No to Women’s Oppression’, tells The Africa Report.

Waving Sudanese flags, thousands of protesters in Khartoum and its suburbs defied security forces who have carried out deadly crackdowns on past rallies, demanding that “soldiers go back to the barracks”.

Security forces responded with tear gas in some areas.

“No partnership, no negotiation with the putschists,” protesters chanted, in what has become a pro-democracy rallying cry.

Rising death toll

In Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, a demonstrator was “run over by a (security) forces vehicle”, said the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors in a statement, raising the death toll in the crackdown since the coup to 119.

A year ago to the day, army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan seized power and arrested the civilian leaders with whom he had agreed to share power in 2019, when mass protests compelled the army to depose one of its own, long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Protesters, calling out that the “revolution continues”, have demanded “a civil democratic Sudan”.

Witnesses said thousands also protested in the cities of Wad Madani and El Obeid south of Khartoum, Gedaref and Port Sudan in the east, Atbara in the north and Nyala in the southwestern Darfur region.

In an attempt to stem protests, authorities restricted internet access nationwide, online monitor NetBlocks said. Access was restored later Tuesday.

But for over a year protesters have defied risks of live ammunition, sexual assault, and imprisonment to push back against the military’s hold on power.

“The only way to break the current political stalemate is to rethink and reimagine the proposed political processes. The context requires a process that is not top-down, not conducted in closed rooms. The process must be transparent and inclusive and must be guided by pro-democracy agenda. Otherwise, many of the most significant actors will not join,” Hamid Khalafallah, a Sudanese human rights activist living in Italy, tells The Africa Report.

Security forces deployed

The authorities in Khartoum ordered all public institutions, schools, and businesses shut Tuesday, as security forces blocked roads and bridges.

Police accused some protesters of “being armed and trained in violence“.

“We’ve been protesting for a year now, and that has enabled us to contain the coup” that gained no “international or regional recognition”, one protester in Khartoum told AFP.

Another, the Sudan flag draped across his shoulders, said: “It’s the first time in history we’re seeing a coup failing to move forward even an inch in a whole year.”

Khalafallah adds: “The military has no options but walking out. They know that themselves. All what they want now, is to guarantee that they will not get prosecuted after stepping down and that their economic interests will be preserved. This is where the bottle neck actually is; figuring out how to accelerate the military’s removal from power, without comprising accountability and justice.”

Civilian rule

For 12 months, near weekly protests have been met with force. On Sunday, security forces shot dead a protester, pro-democracy medics said.

Western governments say Sudan must return to civilian rule before crucial aid halted in response to the coup can resume.

Already one of the world’s poorest countries, Sudan has plunged into a worsening economic crisis.

Between three-digit inflation and chronic food shortages, a third of its 45 million inhabitants suffer from hunger, a 50 percent increase compared with 2021, according to the World Food Programme.

The cost of food staples has jumped 137 percent in one year, which the WFP says has forced Sudanese to spend “more than two-thirds of their income on food alone, leaving little money to cover other needs”.

Many worry that three years after the 2019 uprising that toppled Bashir, signs point to a reversal of their revolution.

Since the coup, several Bashir-era loyalists have been appointed to official positions, including in the judiciary, which is currently trying the former dictator.

Burhan’s pledge of elections next year is seen as far-fetched, no civilian leaders have taken up the mantle of the army chief’s promised civilian government, and international mediation efforts are stalled.

“All political actors need to put aside differences and focus on the best interest of the Sudanese people,” UN envoy to Sudan Volker Perthes said Saturday.

As Nada Wanni, a researcher and development practitioner in Khartoum points out, the visible year-long protests by the Sudanese “scratch the surface of popular resistance that is bubbling inside the country, the intensity of which often appears to be lost on the international community in its focus on the street demonstrations.”

In an opinion piece she wrote, Wanni goes on to say the international community must not turn a blind eye to this “mood of defiance and the myriad ways in which Sudanese people are expressing themselves. To assess Sudan’s appetite for a democratic, civilian state or their acceptance of the status quo through the barometer of the size of street demonstrations alone would be a serious mistake.”

Deadly clashes

On Friday 21 October, 31 protesters were injured, including three who were hit in the eye by tear gas canisters, according to pro-democracy medics.

Western embassies on Monday urged security forces “to refrain from using violence against protesters and to fulfil their obligation to protect freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly”.

Despite the deadly crackdown on Monday’s protests, the demonstrations are unlikely to wind down soon, Cameron Hudson, a former US State Department official and Sudan expert at the Africa Center of the Atlantic Council, tells The Africa Report.

“It has to be broken. People are suffering, economically but also politically. There are several deals that must be concluded, a political deal on how the transition will be restored and who will govern the country; and a deal between civilian and military actors on the new constitutional dispensation and what institutions will exist and what their mandates will be to administer the country. The challenge will be reaching agreement on both issues in a way that satisfies the immediate demands of the people but that is not so radical that it causes the military to fear for itself and triggers it to simply chooses to walk away from negotiations.”

Other crises

A broader security breakdown nationwide has also left nearly 600 dead and more than 210,000 displaced as a result of ethnic violence this year, according to the United Nations.

Sudan is the world’s fifth most vulnerable country to the impacts of climate change, according to a 2020 ranking in the Global Adaptation Index, compiled by the Notre Dame University in the United States.

More than two-fifths of people depend on farming for a living, and conflicts regularly erupt over access to land, water and livestock grazing.

In the southern Blue Nile state, awash with automatic weapons after decades of civil war, some 250 people were killed in clashes over land last week, the UN said.

(with AFP)

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