Protests in Sudan gain momentum
KAMPALA, Uganda – Protests in Sudan reached a new stage over the weekend, as tens of thousands of people demonstrated in front of army headquarters in Khartoum to demand the departure of President Omar al-Bashir, who has wielded authoritarian power for three decades.
In what may signal a significant development, some soldiers appeared to be supporting the demonstration by protecting protesters from other security forces intent on dispersing them, one protester recounted Sunday afternoon in an interview.
The rallies began in December amid food shortages and rising prices and quickly emerged as a mass movement across the country united by the demand that al-Bashir step down.
They now seem to be gaining momentum, and on Sunday the region was bracing for al-Bashir’s response.
The president met Sunday with his security council, according to the state news agency, SUNA. It said that the council took steps to maintain peace and security and that the government was keen to continue dialogue with all groups to achieve national consensus.
The protests in Sudan come less than a week after the ailing president of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, agreed to resign after weeks of mass demonstrations that were largely peaceful.
While al-Bashir’s hold on power is seen as much stronger than Bouteflika’s, his position seemed to weaken somewhat over the weekend, as the protests gathered strength and the government seemed unsure how to respond.
Al-Bashir’s residence in Khartoum, the capital, is in the same military compound as the army headquarters. He rose to power in a military coup in 1989 and for much of the time since he has been regarded as a pariah in the West.
For a time in the 1990s, Sudan hosted Osama bin Laden. And al-Bashir is the only current leader of a nation to be wanted by the International Criminal Court.
The court has accused him of crimes against humanity and genocide, accusing him of playing “an essential role” in atrocities in Darfur, a region in Sudan’s west.
In recent years, he has sought to improve his standing in the West, and in 2017 the United States agreed to lift sanctions against Sudan, citing several promising changes.
Among other things, Sudan agreed not to engage in arms deals with North Korea, and to reduce its interference in South Sudan, which became independent in 2011 after a long civil war.