Khartoum, Apr 22 (AP/UNB) — Tensions escalated in Sudan on Monday after talks broke down between protesters and the country's military rulers, who called for the reopening of roads blocked by sit-ins established during the uprising that drove President Omar al-Bashir from power.
The protesters, who have been rallying outside the military headquarters in Khartoum since April 6, have demanded a swift handover of power to civilians. A military council has ruled since al-Bashir was forced from office on April 11 after nearly four months of mass protests against his 30-year rule.
The military council issued a statement Monday calling for the "immediate opening of the roads and removal of the barricades" around the sit-in in Khartoum. It asked that other roads, closed by similar protests across the country, also be opened.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, which has led the protests, vowed to carry on with their sit-in. The umbrella of professional unions called for a march Tuesday and mass rallies on Thursday, when it plans to announce its own civilian transitional council in a challenge to the military.
Large crowds gathered outside the military headquarters overnight, singing and dancing as protest leaders delivered fiery speeches. Qurashi Diefallah, a protester, said the army is "just an extension of the regime, which stole 30 years from us."
The organizers on Sunday suspended talks with the military council, saying it had failed to meet their demands for an immediate transfer to a civilian government.
Spokesman Mohammed al-Amin Abdel Aziz said the military council "is delaying its response to our proposals, saying that they are considering proposals from all political forces," he said.
That has raised fears among the protesters that Islamists and other factions close to al-Bashir, who is now jailed in Khartoum, will have a role in the transition. They fear that could leave much of his regime intact or pave the way for another strongman.
The SPA has instead called for a Cabinet of technocrats to run the country's daily affairs. They want a legislative council, in which at least 40 percent of the membership would be women, to draft laws and oversee the Cabinet until a new constitution is written.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the military council, said Sunday it would hand over power immediately to a "civilian government agreed by all political forces."
Burhan said the council had received "more than 100 visions" from various political factions for the future the county, including that of the protest organizers. He said the military would respond to proposals within a week.
Those remarks angered the protesters, who saw them as an effort to sideline the SPA by portraying it as one of many political factions.
Hani Raslan, an expert on Sudan at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said the inclusion of figures once close to al-Bashir in the military council, and its outreach to political parties that had taken part in a national dialogue with al-Bashir, had angered the protesters.
"The protesters say the council, by these actions, is reproducing the old regime," he said. "The council could accelerate some measures against al-Bashir's regime to calm down the situation and get the SPA back to the negotiation table."
Johannesburg, Apr 20 (AP/UNB) — Local media in South Africa report that at least 13 people are dead after part of a church collapsed.
Broadcaster News24 cites KwaZulu-Natal emergency medical services spokesman Robert McKenzie as saying heavy rainfall may have been to blame for the collapse Thursday night in Dlangubo.
The report says the collapse at the Pentecostal church occurred as an Easter season service was underway.
It cites McKenzie as saying six people were seriously injured.
Officials are on their way to the site of the collapse.
Geneva, Apr 13 (AP/UNB) — The ongoing Ebola outbreak in Congo does not yet warrant being declared a global emergency but is of "deep concern," the World Health Organization said Friday.
Following a meeting of its expert committee, the U.N. health agency called for efforts to be redoubled to stop the deadly virus, noting that the recent spike in Ebola cases raises the risk of spread to other countries.
The outbreak announced on Aug. 1 has become the second-deadliest in history, behind the West African one from 2014-16 that killed more than 11,300 people. Congo's health ministry on Thursday reported 1,206 confirmed and probable cases, including 764 deaths.
This is the second time the expert committee has decided this outbreak is not yet a global emergency. Committee chair Robert Steffen called Friday's decision unanimous and said the experts had feared making the declaration might even hurt response efforts. He did not give details but said experts were "moderately optimistic" the outbreak could be contained within a "foreseeable time."
Ahead of the WHO announcement, a top Red Cross official said he was "more concerned than I have ever been" about Ebola's possible regional spread.
Emanuele Capobianco, head of health and care at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, cited Congolese health ministry data showing 40 new cases over two days this week. He called that rate unprecedented in this outbreak.
To be designated a public health emergency of international concern, a situation must be "serious, unusual or unexpected," threaten to infect other countries and require "immediate international action."
Emergency declarations almost always boost global attention and donor funding. WHO has noted it is woefully short of the $148 million it says is needed to fight Ebola for the next six months. To date, the agency has only received $74 million.
This outbreak, occurring close to the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, has been like no other. Mistrust has been high in a region that had never faced an Ebola outbreak before, and insecurity caused by rebel groups has hurt aid efforts.
Rebecca Katz, a global health security expert at Georgetown University, in a statement called WHO's decision disappointing, saying the U.N. agency and its experts were "taking too narrow of an interpretation" of what constitutes an international emergency. She called the difficulty of coordinating the response "deeply concerning."
Ahead of the announcement, Trish Newport, Doctors Without Borders' representative in Goma, a major crossroads city close to the outbreak, said that declaring a global emergency wouldn't necessarily help stop the epidemic.
"Bigger is not necessarily better," she said and called for a new approach, saying that after nine months of the same strategy "the epidemic is definitely not under control."
Doctors Without Borders is calling for patients to be treated in existing health centers rather than Ebola-specific clinics: "It's very clear that people do not like or trust the Ebola centers and they are not coming to be treated."
Newport said 75% of new Ebola cases have no obvious link to previous patients, meaning that officials have lost track of where the virus is spreading.
WHO's Dr. Michael Ryan, who heads the emergencies program, disputed that assessment, insisting that officials are eventually able to connect most Ebola cases to a previous patient after an arduous forensic process.
Previous global emergencies have been declared for the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the emergence of Zika virus in the Americas and the international attempt to eradicate polio. WHO was criticized for not declaring the 2014 Ebola outbreak an international emergency until nearly 1,000 people had died and the disease had spilled across borders.
Tariq Riebl, who is based in a current Ebola hot spot, Butembo, for the International Rescue Committee, said a major obstacle to stopping the outbreak is that officials are simply unaware of how many Ebola cases there are.
"We're discovering people when it's way too late," he said, noting numerous cases were buried in secret and never reported to authorities. "Given the average number of cases we're seeing now, this is not going to be over for at least another six months or more."
Cairo, Apr 13 (AP/UNB) — The Sudanese military on Friday swiftly replaced the country's transitional leader linked to the Darfur genocide after street rallies against him and said that it wouldn't hand over ousted President Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity.
Thousands of jubilant protesters celebrated in the streets after Defense Minister Gen. Awad ibn Ouf, who was name de facto leader after overthrowing al-Bashir on Thursday, announced he was stepping down as transitional leader. He named a reputable army general as his successor.
Ibn Ouf said he would be replaced by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, general inspector of the armed forces, as head of the transitional council, which will rule the country for two years until elections.
"I am confident he will steer the ship to safe shores," he said of Burhan, adding he was stepping aside to "preserve unity" of the armed forces.
Burhan's record appears to be cleaner than the rest of al-Bashir's generals, and he is not known to be implicated in war crimes or wanted by international courts. He was one of the generals who reached out to protesters at the week-long encampment near the military headquarters, meeting with them face to face, and listening to their views.
Chants rang out across the sit-in where tens of thousands have been rallying in front of the military headquarters to protest the military takeover of power after al-Bashir's ouster. "Revolutionaries, we will continue our path," the protesters shouted as they danced and clapped.
Earlier Friday, another top general, Omar Zein Abedeen said that the 75-year-old al-Bashir would not be extradited to the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, saying doing so would be "an ugly mark on Sudan."
"Even rebels carrying weapons, we don't extradite them," he told reporters at a news conference in Khartoum.
Zein Abedeen said Sudanese courts would hold al-Bashir "accountable," but did not specify what charges he could be prosecuted on. After his arrest, the military denounced him and his government for corruption, maladministration and "lack of justice."
The developments point to the sensitivity of the Darfur conflict for the military that arrested al-Bashir after four months of deadly street demonstration against his 30-year rule.
The protesters rejected ibn Ouf's leadership because he was head of military intelligence during the brutal campaign to suppress the Darfur insurgency in the 2000s. The United States has imposed sanctions on him since 2007, saying he armed and directed pro-government militias known as the Janjaweed, accused of widespread atrocities against civilians and rapes during the conflict.
The move also underscores the limits on the reach of the International Criminal Court. On Friday, ICC judges rejected a request by the court's prosecutor to open an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and alleged crimes by U.S. forces there, in part because the U.S., Afghan government and Taliban are not expected to cooperate.
In the Darfur conflict, rebels among the territory's ethnic Central African community launched an insurgency in 2003, complaining of discrimination and oppression by the Arab-dominated Khartoum government. The government responded with a scorched earth assault of aerial bombings and unleashed the Janjaweed. Up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million driven from their homes.
Along with al-Bashir, the ICC has indicted two other senior figures in his regime — Abdel-Rahim Muhammad Hussein, who was interior and defense minister during much of the conflict, and Ahmed Haroun, a senior security chief at the time who last month was named by al-Bashir to run the ruling National Congress Party.
Both were among those reported by the Sudanese media to have been arrested Thursday in a sweep by the military against al-Bashir's inner circle. Zein Abedeen confirmed the media reports Friday without specifying the two men.
An ICC spokesman declined to comment on al-Bashir's case. On Thursday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urged the Sudanese military to hand over the ousted leader. "Victims of the gravest crimes in Darfur should not have to wait any longer for justice," said Jehanne Henry, associate director at Human Rights Watch.
Meanwhile, Zein Abedeen sought to reassure protesters who, while celebrating al-Bashir's removal, oppose the military's seizure of power. After ousting the president, the military announced it would rule the country for two years through a transitional council. It also suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, declared a three-month state of emergency and imposed a night-time curfew.
Protest organizers have vowed not to end their street action until a civilian transitional council is formed, saying rule by military commanders who for years were al-Bashir loyalists is just an extension of his regime.
The curfew and state of emergency have raised fears the military could eventually disperse the sit-in by force. But at least initially, it appears to be trying to persuade protest organizers to end the campaign.
Speaking at a news conference aired live on state TV and flanked by other uniformed officers, Zein Abedeen insisted the army has no ambition to hold the reins of power for long.
"If within a month, Sudan became able to run itself without chaos, we are ready to leave even after a month. The maximum is two years," he said. He said the military would only appoint the defense and interior ministers in any transitional government and would not interfere.
"This was not a coup," but a "tool of change," he said. "We came ... to guide the country forward."
But protest organizers rejected the military's assurances, calling them "deception and farce."
The Sudanese Professionals Association, which has spearheaded the four months of demonstrations against al-Bashir, said the "coup leaders ... are not eligible to bring change," and repeated demands for the "immediate handover of power to a civilian transitional government."
At the sit-in, the mood was festive. Some protesters brought in mattresses, fans and even air conditioners, while others swept the streets to keep them clean, signaling they intend to stay long-term. As thousands of Muslim worshippers lined up in the street to hold prayers, Christians among the protesters held blankets over them to shade them from the sun in a show of solidarity.
There were also signs of cracks among al-Bashir's former loyalists. On Friday, the commander of Sudan's feared Rapid Support Force, a paramilitary force, expressed support for the protesters, saying the forces will not "accept any solutions rejected by the Sudanese people" and called for dialogue so Sudan would "avoid slipping into chaos."
Cairo, Apr 12 (AP/UNB) — The Sudanese army will not extradite deposed President Omar al-Bashir but will put him on trial at home, before the nation, the military said Friday as it defended its ouster of the longtime ruler, saying it was in response to the demands of the people.
"This was not a coup," Col. Gen. Omar Zein Abedeen told reporters in the capital, Khartoum, but a "tool of change."
Al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court, faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for his deadly campaign against insurgents in Darfur, where up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million driven from their homes by militias he backed.
To hand over al-Bashir would be "an ugly mark on Sudan ... even rebels carrying weapons, we won't extradite them," said Zein Abedeen, who has been tasked by the military to lead a political dialogue.
Speaking at a press conference in Khartoum that was broadcast on state TV and flanked by other officers also in uniform, he left open the possibility that a future civilian government in Sudan could extradite al-Bashir to the court in The Hague, Netherlands.
The 75-year-old al-Bashir is in custody, Zein Abedeen said, but declined to provide more details or say where the president of 30 years is being held. He also confirmed that top government members, including the vice president and al-Bashir's associates, are under arrest but didn't give any names.
Zein Abedeen, who is on the military transitional council which took over after overthrowing al-Bashir on Thursday, also insisted the army has no ambition to hold the reins of power for long.
"We came ... to guide the country forward," Zein Abedeen said, apparently trying to reassure Sudanese protesters holding a sit-in outside the military headquarters. The protesters have defied the military, which imposed a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew after it arrested al-Bashir.
He pledged the military would stay on only as long as it's needed, or for a maximum of two years.
Meanwhile, the pro-democracy protesters who spent four months on the streets rallying against al-Bashir, pressed on with their campaign for a civilian government.
Thousands kept up their sit-in outside the Khartoum military headquarters overnight and into the morning, despite the curfew. Organizers said they would keep up the campaign and that they disagree with the army's plans to rule the country for the next two years.
Zein Abedeen did not indicate at the press conference that the army would move against the protesters, but made vague remarks how he would "come out ... sit on the grass" and talk with the demonstrators.
The mood among the crowd appeared festive Friday, with protesters playing music and chanting, "Down again" — a reference to Defense Minister Awad Mohammed Ibn Ouf who announced al-Bashir's ouster on Thursday on Sudanese state TV.
Ibn Ouf, who is on a U.S. sanctions list for genocide in Darfur, was sworn in as head of the new military transitional council, which also includes Zein Abedeen.
The rest of the council is yet to be announced. The Sudanese official news agency SUNA reported that Ibn Ouf postponed this step, pending "further consultations." SUNA said Ibn Ouf would meet with political factions and leaders of the protest movement later in the day.
The U.S. State Department has called on the Sudanese military to "follow the will of the people" and "commit to the speedy handover to civilian rule."
On Friday, the commander of Sudan's feared Rapid Support Force, a paramilitary force, said it would not "accept any solutions rejected by the Sudanese people" and for "opening the door for dialogue" with the protest movement.
The force draws its origins from the Janjaweed militias that were implicated in the Darfur genocide. Mohammed Hamadati, the commander, said talks are needed so Sudan would "avoid slipping into chaos."
In his televised announcement Thursday, Ibn Ouf said also that the military had suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, declared a three-month state of emergency and closed the country's borders and airspace.
Sudan analyst and researcher Eric Reeves described the military's ouster of the longtime president as a "palace coup with al-Bashir as scapegoat."
"The three-month state of emergency is a clear indication that they intend to crush the uprising in this time," he said of the Sudanese military.