Cairo, Dec 29 (AP/UNB) — Thousands demonstrated Friday in nearly two dozen neighborhoods of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, calling for President Omar Bashir to step down, according to activists, keeping up the pressure on the autocratic general-turned-president who has been in power for nearly 30 years.
The activists said hundreds also took to the streets Friday in the railway city of Atbara north of Khartoum, Obeid in the western North Kordofan province, and Senar and Wad Madani south of the capital. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals.
They said police used tear gas to disperse protesters in the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman, a traditional hotbed of dissent. There were no reports of casualties.
Friday's protests were the latest in a wave of demonstrations that began across much of Sudan on Dec. 19, first against price rises and shortages but which later turned against Bashir, in power since a 1989 military coup he led. They coincide with worsening economic woes that saw a currency devaluation spiking prices, fuel shortages and a steep rise in the price of bread, a main fare for most Sudanese.
The government says elections are the only legitimate means for "regime change" and insists that "subversive elements" have infiltrated the ranks of peaceful protesters. Lawmakers loyal to Bashir are rallying support in the legislature for constitutional amendments to allow Bashir, who is in his mid-70s, to run for election in 2020.
London-based rights group Amnesty International says it has "reliable reports" to show that 37 people were killed in the first five days of unrest. The United States, Britain, Canada and Norway have expressed concern about the use of lethal force by security forces against protesters and are demanding an investigation.
On Thursday, the government gave its first casualty figures from the unrest. It said 19 people were killed in the protests and more than 200 protesters were wounded. Nearly 190 members of the security forces were wounded, it added.
As in previous protests, participants numbered in the hundreds or very low thousands, but the continuing defiance of the government in the face of security forces accused of using lethal force indicate a high level of popular discontent.
But it's too soon to speculate on whether these relatively modest numbers could force Bashir to step down. They may embolden top army commanders to counsel the president to quit in the nation's interest, although another general at the helm is unlikely to placate the Sudanese. A protracted uprising would likely paralyze the country and turn into the kind of chaos seen in Libya, whose 2011 revolt turned into a civil war that has left the country divided to this day.
Sudan's military has dominated the country since independence in 1956 and the ongoing protests bear some resemblance to popular revolts in 1964 and 1985 that toppled military regimes and ushered in democratically elected governments, later overthrown by military coups in 1969 and 1989 respectively.
The protesters in Atbara chanted "the people want to bring down the regime," the main slogan of the Arab Spring revolts of 2010 and 2011. In Omdurman, they chanted "freedom, peace and justice."
A video clip provided to The Associated Press by the activists and posted online purported to show the scene at a Khartoum mosque where Bashir, an Islamist, performed his Friday prayers. A lone male voice could be heard shouting "Bashir, leave!" The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.
Friday's protests also coincided with an indefinite strike by doctors and a three-day strike by journalists that began on Thursday.
Also Friday, the activists reported another wave of arrests of opposition leaders, including some of the organizers of an attempted march on Bashir's presidential palace on Tuesday. The call for the march attracted thousands of participants who clashed with police who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them. Scores were wounded, some seriously.
Among those arrested is the chairman of the liberal Sudan Conference Party and a senior leader of the Communist Party, the latter a key player in past popular uprisings.
Cairo, Dec 29 (AP/UNB) — A roadside bomb hit a tourist bus on Friday near the Giza Pyramids, killing three Vietnamese and their Egyptian guide, officials said.
The bus was traveling in the Marioutiyah area near the pyramids when the crude roadside bomb, concealed by a wall, went off, Egypt's chief prosecutor Nabil Sadeq said in a statement. The blast wounded 11 other Vietnamese tourists as well as the Egyptian driver.
The bus was carrying a total of 15 Vietnamese tourists, according to Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It said that 10 were seriously injured.
Vietnamese Ambassador to Egypt Tran Thanh Cong visited the scene of the attack and Al Haram Hospital, where the victims were being treated, the ministry said.
Egypt has battled Islamic militants for years in the Sinai Peninsula in an insurgency that has occasionally spilled over to the mainland, hitting minority Christians or tourists. However, this is the first attack to target foreign tourists in almost two years.
The attack takes place as Egypt's vital tourism industry is showing signs of recovery after years in the doldrums because of the political turmoil and violence that followed a 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak.
It will likely prompt authorities to further tighten security around churches and associated facilities ahead of the New year's Eve celebrations and next month's Christmas celebrations of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the dominant denomination among Egypt's estimated 10 million Christians.
Over the past two years, militant attacks against Christians in Egypt — usually targeting churches or buses carrying pilgrims to remote desert monasteries — have killed over a hundred people.
Kinshasa, Dec 27 (AP/UNB) — He wants to run Africa's second-largest country, one of vast mineral wealth, sprawling poverty and vicious fighting that has cost millions of lives. Noel Tshiani Muadiamvita's chances are slim to none but he's convinced he's perfect for the job.
Among 21 candidates vying to succeed President Joseph Kabila in Sunday's election, Tshiani promotes himself as someone Congo has never had: a truly qualified head of state. Former colonizer Belgium departed without training Congolese to rule. Mobutu Sese Seko, who led for more than three decades, had been an army sergeant major. Laurent Kabila was plucked from exile to unseat him. Joseph Kabila, after his father was assassinated, took power at age 29.
Tshiani, wielding a resume featuring Harvard and the World Bank, speaks in terms of glory.
"Muadiamvita means 'invincible warrior,' which means that when you go into a presidential election, my competition is well advised to stay aside," he said. "At the end of the day, no matter what they do, I will win."
The odds say otherwise, but big talk is a staple of Congo's boisterous run-up to the vote.
Kabila is stepping aside after ruling since 2001, and the election has been delayed since late 2016. Now tensions are rising again. The electoral commission on Wednesday delayed the vote in two key areas until months after the new president is inaugurated, meaning more than 1 million votes effectively don't count.
Amid the noise, the 61-year-old Tshiani remains an unknown for many.
"I know his name, because he wants to become president. But I don't know him," said Olivier Bonte as he waited in Kinshasa to catch a bus. Others didn't even recognize the name.
Tshiani describes himself as a technocrat, and pointedly not a politician. After completing his doctorate in economics in Paris, he went to Harvard for a postdoctoral degree in leadership and management. He worked for a number of commercial banks in New York and spent 28 years at the World Bank.
Now he wants to bring that experience home, and has published a book outlining his economic vision for Congo, "The Force of Change."
"We must be ashamed of ourselves, and the politicians should be ashamed of themselves, because this is the result of the management style of the country," Tshiani said, pointing to Congo's widespread lack of basic services and infrastructure despite staggering mineral wealth. "I believe there is a case to be made for somebody who is not a politician, who is not part of the problem ... for somebody like me to become president of Congo."
He said he is financing his campaign with his savings. Leading up to the election, he travelled around Kinshasa accompanied by dark-suited bodyguards and an armed police escort, looking the part of a big-time candidate.
But observers said they doubt his chances in a country where connections are everything.
"I know professor Noel Tshiani," said A.L. Kitenge Lubanda, a political and economic analyst. "He is a brilliant person but he has no (political) machine. His political party is very weak and I don't think he has any chance to win."
Rarely smiling in public, Tshiani often seems taken aback by Congo's vibrant political scene. He addresses a crowd like a professor intent on schooling the people on economic reforms.
He worked a crowd of about 300 people earlier this month, shaking hands as they danced and cheered him on: "Viva Tshiani, Viva!"
After they settled, Tshiani held up his book and explained his vision.
Congo has never had a peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. This election could be the first.
The opposition fears that the vote will be rigged in favor of the ruling party, and that Kabila's preferred successor, Emanuel Ramazani Shadary, has the state machinery behind him. Kabila, meanwhile, has hinted he might run again in five years' time.
Tshiani said no, it is time for a change.
"He has spent 17 years in power. He has amassed a lot of wealth. I think it is time for him to just retire and leave Congo in the hands of another leadership, so that we can use the natural resources — not to enrich ourselves, but to develop the country and create good conditions for the people of Congo."
Maiduguri, Dec 26 (AP/UNB) — Nigeria's military says 14 military and police personnel have been killed in an ambush by Boko Haram extremists.
An army statement says the security forces were on escort duty when they were attacked on Monday just outside Damaturu town in Yobe state in the north of the country.
The statement signed by army spokesman Col. Onyema Nwachukwu says efforts to pursue and "eliminate" the Boko Haram extremists are ongoing.
Nigeria's military has been fighting Boko Haram's Islamic insurgency for nearly a decade. The continued threat is a major issue for President Muhammadu Buhari as he seeks a second term in February's election.
After a recent series of deadly attacks on Nigeria's military, Buhari and others have warned that the extremists have begun using drones to as part of a resurgence.
Cairo, Dec 26 (AP/UNB) — Police used tear gas and fired in the air Tuesday to disperse thousands of protesters attempting to march on the presidential palace to demand that Omar Bashir, Sudan's president of 29 years, step down, according to activists and video clips posted online. Organizers say hundreds were injured and at least eight received gunshot wounds.
The clips purported to show crowds of several hundred each gathering on side roads and headed toward the palace on the bank of the Blue Nile in the heart of Khartoum. They sang patriotic songs and chanted "freedom," ''peaceful, peaceful against the thieves" and "The people want to bring down the regime." The latter was the most popular slogan of the 2010 and 2011 Arab Spring revolts.
One clip showed the seemingly lifeless body of a protester in Khartoum being carried away and placed inside a car that drove away. The protester's head showed a gaping wound and the voice of another protester could be heard saying he was deliberately shot by a sniper. Earlier images circulated by activists showed police snipers on rooftops near the palace ahead of the march.
Another clip purported to show two other protesters suffering gunshot wounds to the head and the legs as they were being attended to in a clinic. There were no reliable casualty figures available.
The march's organizer, an umbrella of independent professional unions, said at least eight protesters received gunshot wounds, three of whom were in serious condition and that hundreds were hurt when police hit them with batons or used tear gas to disperse them.
Large numbers of security forces were deployed across much of Khartoum Tuesday in anticipation of the march, with soldiers riding in all-terrain vehicles. Police fired in the air, used tear gas and hit demonstrators with batons to disperse them, only for the crowds to assemble again and try and continue their march in pitched battles. Activists said the fighting continued after nightfall.
The protest was called by the umbrella of independent professional unions and supported by the country's largest political parties, Umma and Democratic Unionist. The organizers want to submit a petition demanding that Bashir, who has ruled since he seized power in a 1989 military coup, step down.
It said late Tuesday that it would continue to work for the ouster of Bashir, an objective that "we trust we are more able to collectively realize now than at any time before."
Tuesday's march follows nearly a week of protests initially sparked by rising prices and shortages of food and fuel, but which later escalated into calls for Bashir to go. The Sudanese leader was in the al-Jazeera region south of Khartoum on a previously scheduled visit Tuesday. Live TV coverage showed him addressing supporters there in a rally and the country's state news agency said he inaugurated a road and a girls' school there.
In an address in which he frequently quoted verses from the Quran, Bashir, who is an Islamist, blamed the country's economic woes on international sanctions and enemies of Sudan who don't want it to progress.
The petition the protesters wanted to submit at the palace demands that the general-turned-president hand over power to a "transitional government of technocrats with a mandate agreed upon by all segments of Sudanese society."
"We are asserting that we will continue to exercise all popular and peaceful options, including general strike and civil disobedience, to bring down the regime," it warned.
The march followed a joint statement late Monday by the United States, Britain, Norway and Canada, which said they were concerned by "credible reports" that Sudan's security forces have used live ammunition against demonstrators. They urged all parties to avoid violence or the destruction of property while affirming the right of the Sudanese people to peacefully protest to express their "legitimate grievances."
The London-based rights group Amnesty International meanwhile said it had "credible reports" that Sudanese police have killed 37 protesters in clashes during the anti-government demonstrations.
An opposition leader said over the weekend that 22 protesters were killed. The government has acknowledged fatalities without providing any figures.
The military vowed Sunday to rally behind Bashir and emphasized in a statement that it was operating in harmony with the police and Sudan's feared security agencies. Also Monday, Bashir said his government would introduce measures to remedy the economy and "provide citizens with a dignified life."
He also warned citizens against what he called "rumor mongers."
The protests over the past week have been met with a heavy security crackdown, with authorities arresting more than a dozen opposition leaders, suspending school and university classes, and imposing emergency rule or nighttime curfews in several cities. There has also been a near-total news blackout on the protests and tighter than usual censorship of newspapers.
Bashir, in his mid-70s, overthrew an elected but ineffective government when he seized power in 1989 in collaboration with Islamists. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for committing crimes against humanity and genocide in the western Darfur region, where disgruntled ethnic African tribesmen revolted for a larger share of the nation's resources and an end to discrimination by the Arabized and mostly Muslim north.
Bashir has ordered the use of force against protesters in the past — including in the last round of unrest in January — successfully crushing them to remain one of the longest-serving leaders in the region. Although his time in power has seen one crisis after another, he is seeking a new term in office, with loyal lawmakers campaigning for constitutional amendments that would allow him to run in the 2020 election.
Sudan, a country of more than 40 million people, lost three quarters of its oil wealth when the mainly animist and Christian south seceded in 2011 after a long and ruinous civil war against the Khartoum government. More recently, a currency devaluation earlier this year caused prices to surge and a liquidity crunch forced the government to limit bank withdrawals, leading to long lines outside ATMs.