Some shops reopen in Sudan’s cities despite strike call
KHARTOUM, Sudan — Shops and businesses reopened Monday and some traffic returned to the streets of the capital of Khartoum and another major city despite calls by pro-democracy protesters to continue a general strike and other civil disobedience to try to pressure Sudan’s ruling military council to hand over power to civilians.
One week ago, security forces violently swept away a camp where demonstrators had been holding a sit-in, with over 100 people killed. In response, the opposition called a general strike that began Sunday, the first day of the workweek in Sudan, to keep up pressure on the military.
The military said the protesters were escalating Sudan’s political crisis and doing major harm to the country and its security by calling the strike.
Streets were empty and many businesses were closed Sunday in parts of Khartoum and its sister city of Omdurman, with Mohammed al-Asam, a leader of the opposition Sudanese Professionals’ Association, saying the first day of the strike was “an unparalleled success.” He urged the Sudanese to continue the campaign peacefully.
The association posted videos and photos on social media it said were of deserted streets and closed shops and businesses on Monday in Khartoum’s neighborhood of Gabra and the eastern city of Wad Madani.
But there was visibly more traffic on the streets Monday, and shops, businesses and pharmacies reopened in areas of Khartoum like the Arab market.
A traffic jam formed on several streets while security forces removed barricades built by protesters in the past two months.
Lt. Gen. Jamaleddine Omar of the ruling military council said Sunday night that “closing the roads and building barricades … is a full-fledged crime as it deprives people from being able to go about their normal life.”
The military ousted and jailed longtime autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir on April 11, following months of street protests, then took power and promised free elections after a transitional period. Protesters stayed in the streets, demanding that the generals relinquish power immediately.
The standoff lasted until June 3, when the government’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces violently dispersed the demonstrators, including their main encampment outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.
The more than 100 dead included about 40 people whose bodies were pulled from the Nile River in Khartoum. The military-backed Health Ministry disputes the death toll, saying 61 were killed, including three members of the security forces.
Omar said the military and the Rapid Support Forces have increased their presence across the country “to restore life back to normal,” while the SPA urged people to close up roads again, rebuild dismantled barricades and try to avoid clashes with the security forces.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is trying to revive negotiations between the generals and the protest leaders, visiting Khartoum last week.
Ahmed spoke by phone with military council head Abdel Fattah Burhan on mediation efforts, and both expressed hope for the current crisis. On Sunday, the council said it was willing to return to the talks with what looked like a small concession on a plan offered by Ahmed.
Opposition leaders have said they accept Ahmed as mediator but insist on several conditions before returning to the talks. Al-Asam said they want an independent, internationally backed body to investigate the violence and bring those responsible to justice; a halt to arrests of opposition figures; and restoration of the internet.
The SPA is an umbrella group of unions who have been spearheading the pro-democracy protests since December.
Omar said the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, which represented the protesters in talks with the military council until the generals suspended them, are to blame for “all the regrettable events” of recent days. The protest leaders “crossed the line of peaceful practices … and have become a major liability for the country and the people’s security,” he said.
The military council said some security forces have been taking into custody after its own investigation showed them to be implicated in the breakup of the protest camp on June 3. The brief statement did not elaborate.
In other developments, three leaders of a rebel movement who were arrested in Khartoum last week have been deported to Juba, the capital of neighboring South Sudan, according to their group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North.
The three — SPLM-N leader Ismail Jalab, deputy Yasir Arman and spokesman Mubarak Ardol — were deported “against their will,” according to a statement by the group’s chairman Malik Agar Eyre. The SPLM-N has been negotiating with Sudan’s military leaders for restoring peace in Sudan’s provinces of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Sudanese opposition parties condemned the deportation and called for the immediate return of the three.
Arman’s brother, Mojtaba, accused the military council of repeating the brutality of the previous government.
Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Sam Mednick in Juba contributed.