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Monday September 23rd, 2019 2:21PM

Sudan's military blames protest leaders for escalation

By The Associated Press
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KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Sudan's ruling military blamed the country's protest movement for an escalation as the second day of the opposition's general strike kicked in on Monday in the protesters latest bid to pressure the army to hand over power to civilian rule.

For the second day, shops and businesses were closed in the capital, Khartoum, though there was visibly more traffic in the streets than on Sunday, when the strike began.

But the military's latest harsh words — describing actions by the protest movement as doing major harm to Sudan and its security — reflected that the ruling generals are hardening their stance.

It has been two months since the military ousted Sudan's longtime autocrat, Omar al-Bashir, on April 11, following months of protests against his rule. The generals put al-Bashir behind bars and took over the country, promising free elections following a transitional period.

The protesters, however, remained in the streets demanding the generals relinquish power right away. The standoff lasted until troops moved in last Monday and violently broke up opposition sit-ins, including the main encampment outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.

Over 100 people have been killed in the violence since then, including more than 40 victims whose bodies were later pulled out of the Nile River in Khartoum. The military-backed Health Ministry disputes the death toll, saying the official total tally of those killed in the violence stands at 61, including three members of the security forces.

On Sunday, the military council said it was willing to return to the talks with what looked like a small concession on a plan offered by the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who visited Khartoum last week trying to revive negotiations between the generals and the protest leaders.

The opposition said it accepts Aby as mediator but put forth several conditions to return to negotiations, demanding the military stop arresting opposition figures and restore the internet, among others.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella of unions which has been spearheading the protests against al-Bashir since last December, urged the Sudanese to continue the general strike Monday, part of a civil disobedience campaign to press the military.

The union association posted videos and photos on social media it said were of deserted streets and closed shops and businesses in Khartoum's neighborhood of Gabra and the eastern city of Wad Madani.

According to the protest leaders, the participation in the strike on in the first day exceeded their hopes. They vowed Monday to continue their "peaceful resistance" until the military council is toppled.

The SPA urged people to close up roads again, rebuild dismantled barricades across the country, and avoid clashes with the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. In a video posted late Sunday, Mohammed al-Asam, an SPA leader, said the first day of the strike was "an unparalleled success." He urged the Sudanese to continue the campaign peacefully.

Security forces on Sunday removed barricades from main roads and reopened the sit-in area outside the military's headquarters.

"The solution is to get life paralyzed," the protest leaders said.

Lt. Gen. Jamaleddine Omar, from the ruling military council, said late Sunday that by closing roads and setting up barricades, the protesters committed a crime.

"The technique of closing the roads and building barricades ... is a full-fledged crime as it deprives people from being able to go about their normal life," he said.

Omar said the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, which represented the protesters in negotiations with the military council that went on for weeks till the generals suspended the talks earlier this month, are to blame for "all the regrettable events" of the past days.

The protest leaders, by their actions, have "crossed the line of peaceful practices ... and have become a major liability for the country and the people's security," he said.

Omar also said the military and the Rapid Support Forces have beefed up their presence across the country "to restore life back to normal."

In other developments, three rebel leaders arrested in Khartoum last week were released, the state-run SUNA news agency said Monday.

Yasir Arman, deputy head of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North was detained Wednesday, while leader Ismail Jalab and the group spokesman Mubarak Ardol were detained Saturday.

___

Magdy reported from Cairo.

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