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Eritrea for mobile viewing Sudan protesters seek talks with army to form a transitional government

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Date: Monday, 08 April 2019

Group spearheading protests also call on Sudanese armed forces to withdraw their support for government which 'has lost its legitimacy'
Protesters rallied in front of the military headquarters in Khartoum on Monday (AFP)

The Sudanese group spearheading months-long protests against President Omar al-Bashir's rule have called on the army to hold direct talks with demonstrators about forming a transitional government.

Their request comes hours after Sudanese soldiers intervened on Monday to protect protesters from security forces who attempted to break up a sit-in outside a complex in Khartoum that includes defence ministry, army headquarters and the president's residence.

"We call on the Sudanese armed forces to talk directly with the Alliance for Freedom and Change for facilitating the peaceful process of forming a transitional government," Omar el-Digeir, a senior member of the group, said in a statement outside the complex where thousands of demonstrators have massed since Saturday.

Why are Sudanese protesting against their government?

Hundreds of people have been taking to the streets of a series of towns and cities in Sudan since 19 December 2018 to protest a government decision to remove subsidies on wheat and electricity.

Sudan's economy has been struggling over the past decade with inflation spiking to around 70 percent over the past year alone.

This has caused the price of bread to double, cash shortages and salaries left unpaid. The austerity measures adopted by the government are part of larger economic reforms proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The mobilisation on the ground against the price hikes - organised by a group known as the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) - found almost immediate resonance among opposition leaders, youth and women movements and rapidly turned into a larger show of discontent with 75-year-old President Omar al-Bashir. 

Protesters have been reportedly chanting "freedom, peace, justice” and “revolution is the people’s choice” as they march through the streets of the capital, Khartoum.

Sudan's armed forces have responded to protesters with tear gas and at times, live ammunition, mowing down at least 30 people, according to government figures.

Human Rights Watch, the international rights watchdog, says the death toll is closer to 51.

The protests have energised the Sudanese diaspora culminating in the biggest ever challenge to Bashir's rule since he took over the country in 1989.

Digeir said the protest organisers had also formed a council to initiate talks with security forces and the international community aimed at agreeing on a political transition that gives power to a "transitional government that represents the wish of the revolution".

"We reiterate our people's demand that the head of the regime and his government have to immediately step down."

'We reiterate our people's demand that the head of the regime and his government have to immediately step down'

- Statement from Alliance for Freedom and Change

"We also call on the Sudanese armed forces to withdraw their support for a regime that has lost its legitimacy," Digeir said, reading from a statement issued by the alliance.

"We reiterate our people's demand that the head of the regime and his government have to immediately step down."

"We call on the Sudanese armed forces to support the Sudanese people's alternative for a transition to a civilian democratic government."

The Alliance for Freedom and Change is an umbrella group of political parties and unions representing doctors, engineers and teachers that has led the protest movement against Bashir since December.

The rally outside the army headquarters, now in its third straight day, has been the largest since protests began on 19 December in the central town of Atbara, quickly spreading to the capital and towns and cities across the east African country.

The protesters accuse Bashir's administration of economic mismanagement that has led to soaring food prices and shortages of fuel and foreign currency.

Protecting protesters

Earlier on Monday, the soldiers intervened to keep protesters safe as security forces on pickup trucks fired tear gas towards thousands of demonstrators, Reuters reported.

Since protests erupted across Sudan in December, agents of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and riot police have cracked down on demonstrators, but the army had not so far intervened.

Several vehicles carrying NISS personnel and riot police arrived in the early hours on Monday, witnesses told the AFP news agency.

"After that, security forces began firing tear gas at protesters," a witness said on condition of anonymity.

Gunshots were also heard, witnesses said, but it was not clear who fired the shots.

A protester told the BBC that the military was at first neutral but then tried to chase the security forces away.

The gas was felt by residents in a neighbourhood about five kilometres away from the army complex.

"I stepped out on my balcony hearing the sound of the gas canisters and could feel the gas in the air," said one resident.

A few hours later security personnel again fired tear gas at the protesters, witnesses said.

The European Union said an "unprecedented" number of people had come out calling for change since Saturday.

"The people of Sudan have shown remarkable resilience in the face of extraordinary obstacles over many years," the EU's External Action Service said. 

"Their trust must be won through concrete action by the government."

Anniversary date

Protests first erupted in December after a government decision to triple the price of bread, but they quickly morphed into nationwide demonstrations against Bashir's rule.

In recent weeks, the scale and intensity of protests had dwindled due to a state of emergency imposed by Bashir, but Saturday saw a resurgence with thousands of protesters staging a continuous rally outside the army complex.

Protest organisers chose 6 April for the latest rally to mark the 1985 uprising that toppled the regime of then-president Jaafar Nimeiri.

Officials say 32 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51.

After a meeting chaired by Bashir on Sunday, Sudan's security council said the demands of the protesters "have to be heard".

Wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and genocide in the conflict-wracked region of Darfur, Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

He has remained defiant, introducing tough measures that have seen protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists arrested.

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