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Sudan Defense Minister Vows to Protect Country against Division

Sudan Defense Minister Vows to Protect Country against Division

Monday, 8 April, 2019 - 10:00
Demonstrators flash the victory sign as a military police vehicle drives past them during a protest against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir in Khartoum, Sudan April 6, 2019. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Sudan's defense minister said on Monday that security forces would not permit attempts to divide them, according to comments carried by state news agency SUNA.

Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, who is also Sudan's first vice president, said the armed forces appreciated the reasons for protests against President Omar al-Bashir's rule but would not allow a breakdown of security.

Earlier, soldiers intervened to protect demonstrators after security forces tried to break up a sit-in of thousands of anti-government demonstrators outside the defense ministry in Khartoum, witnesses and activists said.

Prominent opposition leaders joined protesters as a group for the first time in some three months of unrest, addressing demonstrators massed outside the ministry compound for the past two days, witnesses said.

The leaders reiterated their demand for Bashir and his government to step down immediately.

The group spearheading the protests on Monday appealed to the army for talks on forming a transitional government.

"We call on the Sudanese armed forces to talk directly with the Alliance for Freedom and Change for facilitating the peaceful process of forming a transitional government," said Omar el-Digeir, a senior member of the group.

Digeir said the protest organizers had also formed a council to initiate talks with security forces and the international community aimed at agreeing a transition that gives power to a "transitional government that represents the wish of the revolution".

"We reiterate our people's demand that the head of the regime and his government have to immediately step down," Digeir said.

Reading from a statement, he also called on the armed forces "to withdraw their support for a regime that has lost its legitimacy" and to support the "people's alternative for a transition to a civilian democratic government".

The interior minister told parliament that six people had been killed on Saturday and Sunday in disturbances in Khartoum, and one in the western region of Darfur.

Frequent protests have been staged in Sudan since December, when the government tried to raise bread prices, building into the most sustained challenge yet to Bashir, a former army general who came to power in a military coup in 1989.

On Saturday, protesters marched toward the defense ministry hoping to deliver a memorandum urging the army to side with them. They reached the ministry compound, which includes Bashir’s residence and the secret service headquarters, despite attempts by security forces to stop them, and set up a camp.

The number of protesters outside the compound continued to grow on Monday despite the closure of all roads leading there, witnesses said.

Early on Monday, witnesses and activists said riot police and secret service personnel charged the demonstrators with pickup trucks while firing tear gas, trying to disperse a crowd estimated at 3,000 men and women.

But witnesses and activists said soldiers guarding the compound had come out to protect the demonstrators, firing warning shots in the air.

The security forces retreated without firing back and soldiers deployed around the area, while demonstrators chanted “The army is protecting us” and “One people, one army”, witnesses said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Information Minister Hassan Ismail, who is also the government spokesman, contradicted the reports.

“The crowd in front of the (military) general command has been cleared completely, in a way that resulted in no casualties among all parties...The security apparatus are coherent together and working with positive energy and in harmony.”

Previous attempts by security forces have failed to disperse the protesters, who have vowed to stay until Bashir steps down.

Bashir has acknowledged that the protesters have legitimate demands but says they must be addressed peacefully, and through the ballot box.

Security forces have used tear gas, stun grenades and mass arrests, and have sometimes fired live ammunition.

In his address to parliament, Interior Minister Bishara Jumaa said 39 people had died since the onset of the protests, including three members of the security forces.

He said 10,000 protesters had gathered outside the defense ministry compound on Saturday, the first time authorities had provided such a crowd estimate.

Activists put the death toll at more than 60 since the protests began. They chose Saturday for their march to coincide with the April 6 anniversary of a 1985 military coup that forced long-time autocrat Jaafar Nimeiri to step down after protests.

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