sudans embattled leader bans rallies amid crackdown

Sudan’s embattled leader bans rallies amid crackdown

Middle East

CAIRO: Sudanese protesters on Tuesday defied their embattled president’s ban on unauthorized public gatherings, with hundreds rallying across the country to call for his resignation.

The protests came despite a state of emergency imposed on Friday by President Omar Al-Bashir in response to more than two months of demonstrations against his nearly three-decade rule. Nationwide protests erupted in December, initially over rising prices and shortages but quickly turned to calls for Al-Bashir’s ouster.

Tuesday’s rallies were called by the Sudanese Professional Association, an umbrella of independent professional unions that has spearheaded the two and a half months of protests.

Video footage shows demonstrators, mostly women, marching in the streets of Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman. Demonstrations were also reported in the city of Atbara and the country’s troubled Darfur region.

On Monday, Al-Bashir issued decrees giving security forces powers to search buildings, restrict movements of people and public transportation, arrest individuals suspected of crimes related to the state of emergency and seize assets or property during investigations, according to the state-run SUNA news agency.

The decrees included a ban on unauthorized trading and stockpiling fuel products, prison terms for those traveling with more than $3,000 in cash or 150 grams of gold.

The unions said the state of emergency was unconstitutional and that they would challenge it in the courts. “We have one option, which is to win,” they added, calling for fresh protests against Al-Bashir.

“The ban is a desperate decision aiming at terrifying the protesters and their families,” said rights lawyer Amal El-Zain. “It may curb the uprising but will not stop it.”

Activists said on Tuesday that authorities have lifted a block on popular social media platforms that have been used to organize and broadcast the protests.

A joint statement on Tuesday by the US, Britain, Norway and Canada said they were “deeply concerned” about Al-Bashir’s recent decisions to declare the state of emergency, impose a ban on unauthorized public gatherings and appoint military and security members to senior government positions.

“The return to military rule does not create a conducive environment for a renewed political dialogue or credible elections,” the statement said.

Al-Bashir’s term expires in 2020; he has repeatedly promised not to run again. Without amending the constitution, he cannot run for a third term.

Earlier this month, a parliamentary committee tasked with amending the constitution to scrap presidential term limits canceled its meetings, a move that appeared to be the only political concession by Al-Bashir so far.

Activists say at least 57 people have been killed in the protests. The government’s latest tally stands at 30 killed, but figures have not been updated in weeks.