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.
Johannesburg, Dec 23 (AP/UNB) — His skull still open, a South African musician with a brain tumor played several notes on his guitar during a successful operation to remove most of the growth.
Musa Manzini's guitar-playing helped guide the medical team in their delicate task while preserving neural pathways, said Dr. Rohen Harrichandparsad, one of the neurosurgeons. Manzini was given local anesthetic during what doctors call an "awake craniotomy" this month at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in Durban.
"It increased the margin of safety for us, in that we could have real-time feedback on what we were doing intraoperatively," Harrichandparsad said Saturday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
The procedure is not uncommon, and there have been several cases in other countries of musicians playing an instrument or singing during similar operations. The intention was to test Manzini's "ability to produce music," which requires the complex interaction of pathways in the brain, the doctor said.
Manzini was given his guitar toward the end of the hours-long procedure, as doctors checked that everything was in order.
A photo and video taken by the medical team show Manzini lying with his guitar in the operating room.
"There you are, do your thing," a team member says as he begins playing.
Starting slowly, Manzini picks out a series of notes and eases toward a tune, with the beeping of monitors as accompaniment.
In an "awake craniotomy," some doctors stimulate parts of the brain with a mild electrical current as a way of testing and mapping areas that control key functions such as movement and speech. If a patient struggles to speak when the current is applied to a particular area, for example, doctors know they must protect it during tumor removal.
Despite the procedure's name, patients are given medication to make them sleepy during parts of the lengthy operation.
In 2015, a musician played his saxophone during brain surgery in Spain. An opera singer sang during a brain operation in the Netherlands in 2014.
Dr. Basil Enicker, another neurosurgeon who operated on Manzini, said 90 percent of the tumor was removed and that the musician was at home near Durban and doing well.
"Our main aim was to make sure that we do the best that we can for our patient," Enicker said. He said the response from the public to news of the operation was very positive.
"We are pleasantly surprised," he said.
Nairobi, Dec 22 (AP/UNB) — An explosives-packed vehicle detonated at a military checkpoint near Somalia's presidential palace, killing at least six people and wounding several others, police said. The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group, which often targets Mogadishu, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Those killed include three staffers from the London-based Universal TV station, including prominent journalist Awil Dahir Salad, said police Capt. Mohamed Hussein.
The bomber targeted the checkpoint near the rear entrance of the heavily fortified palace, Hussein said. A lawmaker and a deputy mayor of Mogadishu were among the more than 20 people wounded, he said.
Soldiers also were among the dead, Col. Ahmed Mohamud said.
The blast and a second, smaller one nearby appeared to target those heading to work on what was a business day in the Horn of Africa nation.
A plume of smoke rose over the capital as ambulances rushed to the scene.
"At first I saw a vehicle driving to and fro, then we tried to stop people walking here and there, and then in the blink of an eye the vehicle exploded, causing havoc," traffic police officer Mohamed Harun told The Associated Press.
Al-Shabab, the most active Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa, was pushed out of Mogadishu years ago but continues to control large parts of rural southern and central Somalia.
The U.S. military, which partners with Somali forces and an African Union peacekeeping mission, has greatly increased airstrikes against al-Shabab under the Trump administration. At least 47 U.S. strikes have been carried out this year.
Washington, Dec 18 (AP/UNB) — A spate of American airstrikes against Islamic extremists in Somalia is the latest in a dramatic uptick in U.S. attacks in the Horn of Africa nation since President Donald Trump took office.
The weekend strikes, which killed 62 people, targeted al-Shabab militants who want to establish their own version of repressive Shariah law in Somalia. A Somali intelligence officer told The Associated Press that the strikes on Gandarshe, a town along the Indian Ocean coast, were aimed at foiling a planned extremist attack.
The U.S. conducted 17 airstrikes in Somalia between 2007 and 2015, according to Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal who has tracked airstrikes in several countries for more than a decade. But those numbers have sharply escalated in recent years.
In 2016, the last year of Barack Obama's presidency, the U.S. launched 15 strikes in Somalia. That number rose to 31 in 2017 and at least 45 this year.
Al-Shabab once controlled large swathes of Somalia, including much of the capital, Mogadishu. African Union forces have succeeded in pushing the extremists from most major cities, however the group continues to be active in Somalia's rural areas and still launches suicide car bomb attacks in the capital. Last year, a massive truck bomb killed more than 500 people.
There are between 3,000 and 7,000 al-Shabab militants in Somalia, along with up to 250 Islamic State group members.
The U.S. is targeting training camps and other sites to reduce al-Shabab's the military capacity, said Roggio, who predicts the airstrikes in Somalia will continue at the current pace or increase.
"They are effective in keeping al-Shabab at bay, but not effective at defeating them — dealing them a decisive blow," Roggio said.
The weekend strikes were aimed at al-Shabab fighters who were preparing a major attack on a Somali government military base in the Lower Shabelle region, said the intelligence official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter. The official said the airstrikes hit both a military camp and battle vehicles in Gandarshe. Al-Shabab has long used the historic town southwest of Mogadishu, as a place to organize and launch attacks, including car bombs that hit the capital.
The U.S. military said Monday it carried out four strikes on Dec. 15 in which 34 people were killed and two more on Dec. 16 which killed 28. No civilians were injured or killed in the attacks, U.S. military officials said.
The strikes were carried out in close coordination with Somalia's government and were "conducted to prevent al-Shabab from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire and recruit for future attacks," said the U.S. military statement.
The strikes are part of the Trump administration's strategy in Africa that addresses three core U.S. interests on the continent: advancing trade and commercial ties, making sure that money spent on U.S. aid is not wasteful and combating violence and Islamic extremism.
After decades of the U.S. largely leaving Somalis to work out their own problems, the Trump administration with its focus on counterterror operations has grown the number of U.S. military personnel in the country to an estimated 500. Two U.S. service members have been killed in Somalia since Trump took office, the first such deaths since 1993.
United Nations, Dec 4 (AP/UNB) — More than 150 women and girls have sought treatment in the past 12 days for rape and other acts of sexual violence near Bentiu, the second-largest city in South Sudan, U.N. officials said Monday.
A joint statement from the U.N. humanitarian chief and the heads of the U.N. children's agency and the U.N. population agency condemned the "abhorrent attacks."
They said that "the assailants have been described as armed men, many in uniform."
A U.N. statement said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the attacks. "These horrific acts are a distressing reminder of how, despite recent recommitments by South Sudan's leaders to a cessation of hostilities and a revitalized peace agreement, the security situation for civilians remains dire, especially for women and children," the statement said.
Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and U.N. Population Fund Executive Director Natalia Kanem called on authorities "to publicly denounce the attacks and ensure that those responsible for these crimes face justice."
In the first half of 2018, they said, some 2,300 cases of gender-based violence were reported to medical and aid groups in South Sudan, the vast majority perpetrated against women and girls and over 20 percent against children.
"The actual number of cases is far higher, as gender-based violence continues to be severely under-reported," the U.N. officials said.
"Humanitarian workers are providing critical, life-saving assistance and services to the survivors of the attacks," they said. "We call on the authorities to ensure the protection and safety of both civilians and aid workers, to ensure that further such horrendous violations are prevented and that assistance reaches those in need."
Humanitarian workers have warned of higher rates of sexual assault as growing numbers of desperate people try to reach aid.
Doctors Without Borders said Saturday the "dramatic increase" in sexual violence occurred as the women and girls walked to a food distribution site in Bentiu in Unity state.
They were robbed of clothing and shoes, and even their ration cards for food distribution were seized and destroyed, the group said.
Ruth Okello, a midwife with Doctors Without Borders who treated some of the survivors, called what happened "indescribable" and said those targeted include pregnant and elderly women and girls as young as 10.
Before the latest attacks, the medical charity said its Bentiu clinic treated 104 survivors of sexual assault in the first 10 months of this year.
There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But it plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer.
Sexual violence has been widespread in the country's civil war.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 didn't stop the fighting, and neither did cessation of hostilities agreement in December 2017 and a declaration on June 27. A Sept. 12 power-sharing agreement signed in neighboring Sudan has so far been fraught with delays, missed deadlines and continued fighting in parts of the country.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and forced over 4 million to flee their homes — more than 1.8 million of them leaving the country in what has become one of the world's fastest-growing refugee crises.
A U.N. panel of experts circulated a report last week saying that the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and U.N. human rights experts recently "corroborated accounts by victims and witnesses of women and girls as young as 12 years having been abducted by opposition forces and paraded for commanders to choose as 'wives'."
Three of Machar's commanders in charge of forces committing the offenses have been identified, the panel said. They were not named.