General strike brings Sudan to standstill
A protester flashes the victory sign while holding her child in a street leading to the sit-in outside the Sudanese military headquarters, in Khartoum, Sudan, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. RSF security agents loyal to ousted President Omar al-Bashir massacred 108 people at the demonstration. Opposition protesters have now launched a general strike against the country's military rulers. | AP

KHARTOUM, Sudan—Shops were closed and streets were empty across Sudan on Sunday, the first day of a general strike called for the start of the workweek by protest leaders demanding the resignation of the ruling military council.

Sudan has been rocked by political instability since protests started last November over the tripling of bread prices. The movement led to the fall of Islamist authoritarian president Omar al-Bashir, who stood down in April following a military coup. A body called the Transitional Military Council has ruled Sudan since then and refuses to relinquish power.

Talks between the military regime and representatives of the Sudanese opposition were scrapped last week after they reached agreement on a framework for a civilian-led transitional administration but stalled on the issue of the presidency.

Authorities moved against thousands of protesters staging a sit-in near the army headquarters in the capital Khartoum, with the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) massacring at least 108 people.

Opposition forces said more than 40 bodies had been pulled from the River Nile after the bloodshed, during which the RSF went on the rampage, threatening to execute women and forcing people to drink sewage water while being urinated on. The events have sparked a major turning point in the country’s “peaceful revolution.”

The protesters hope that their strike and campaign of civil disobedience will force the military to hand over power to civilians. The generals have refused demonstrators’ demands for an immediate move to civilian rule, however, instead pushing for a transitional power-sharing arrangement

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the opposition’s umbrella coalition group, issued a statement saying that “the civil disobedience movement…will only end when a civilian government announces itself in power on state television.” It continued, declaring, “Disobedience is a peaceful act capable of bringing the most powerful weapons arsenal in the world to its knees.”

The SPA posted photos of what it said was an empty Khartoum International Airport, adding that airport workers and pilots are taking part in the civil disobedience. Other videos online showed offices and businesses closed and light traffic, in both Khartoum and the Red Sea city of Port Sudan.

SPA activist Dura Gambo said participation in the general strike “exceeded our expectations.”

“All private and some government banks joined the strike. Cities across the country are almost empty,” she said.

Military council spokesman Shams al-Deen al-Kabashi urged the protest leaders to retract their call for civil disobedience. In televised comments, al-Kabashi said the council would accept proposals provided by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to resume talks. Ahmed has been trying to revive negotiations between the generals and the protest leaders. “We have no objections to get back to negotiations and reach consensus,” al-Kabashi said.

Despite its supposed openness to negotiation, however, the military ordered more arrests of opposition leaders this weekend just before the strike began.

Three members of a delegation who met with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed on Friday were detained by security services in nighttime raids on Saturday, their aides reported. Mohamed Esmat was arrested, along with Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North leader Ismail Jalab and party spokesman Mubarak Ardol. The Ethiopian government has been attempting to play a mediating role in the conflict.

Authorities also swooped in to detain trade union members ahead of strike action in Sudan’s banking, airport, and security industries.

An Associated Press journalist saw a heavy deployment of troops from the paramilitary RSF in several parts of Khartoum and its sister city of Omdurman. There are long lines for fuel in several areas in the capital.

The internet remains cut off in Khartoum, and other types of communications also are restricted, with reports of mobile network services heavily disrupted.

Security forces removed barricades from main roads and opened the sit-in area outside the military’s headquarters for the first time in a week. The SPA urged protesters to avoid clashes with the RSF.

The RSF grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias used by al-Bashir in the Darfur conflict in the early 2000s. Protesters accuse it of leading the nationwide crackdown, and the SPA has called for the force to be disbanded. The Sudanese Communist Party, a part of the SPA, has warned of foreign interference in the country’s affairs, including in the funding and training of the RSF.

The Sudan Doctors’ Committee, the medical affiliate of the SPA, said that of the four people killed Sunday, one was a young man who was shot by the RSF in Khartoum’s Bahri neighborhood. Two others died of their wounds after RSF forces beat them, and a fourth was shot in Omdurman, it said.

In this frame grab from video, shops are closed and streets are empty during a general strike, in the Al-Arabi souk business district of Khartoum, Sudan, Sunday, June 9, 2019. | AP

The committee says 118 people have been killed since June 3. The military-run Health Ministry claims a lower death toll of 61, including 49 civilians and three security forces in Khartoum.

The World Health Organization said Saturday that 784 people were wounded in Khartoum since June 3, although it added that the actual number could be higher because not all cases are reported or recorded.

The SPA maintains that peaceful, civil disobedience and a general strike “is the fastest and most effective way to topple the military council … and to hand over power to a transitional civilian authority.” It urged international agencies to refrain from dealing with the military council.

“Dozens of airport workers have been arrested by intelligence and the RSF since Monday. We do not know their whereabouts. New workers have been seen in the past days to replace those who took part in the strike,” an airport worker told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal.

The Sudan Pharmacists Central Committee, which is part of the SPA, said RSF forces raided a government health agency in Khartoum that supplies medications and other care needs for patients across Sudan. The RSF has been accused of targeting hospitals and clinics treating wounded protesters.

In addition to a handover of power to civilians, the protesters and striking workers also want an independent, internationally backed body to investigate the violence since al-Bashir’s April 11 ouster and to bring those responsible for the bloodshed to justice.

This article features reporting from Bassam Hatoum and Samy Magdy of the Associated Press and Steve Sweeney of Morning Star.