Heavily armed paramilitaries roamed the Sudanese capital Thursday, forcing fearful residents to hide indoors after a crackdown on protesters that authorities admitted had left dozens dead and prompted the African Union to suspend Khartoum.
Members of the Rapid Support Forces, who rights groups say have their origins in the Janjaweed militias of Darfur, deployed on the streets in pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns and rocket launchers, witnesses said.
“We’re living in a state of terror because of sporadic gunfire,” a resident of south Khartoum told reporters.
He said he was “afraid for (his) children to go out in the street”.
As international condemnation mounted, a health ministry official told reporters that “the death toll across the country had risen to 61,” including 52 killed by “live ammunition” in Khartoum.
The Central Committee for Sudanese Doctors said Wednesday that 40 bodies had been pulled from the Nile, sending the death toll soaring to at least 108.
The committee, which is part of the protest movement and relies on medics on the ground for its information, warned the figure could rise.
The military ousted longtime president Omar al-Bashir in April after months of protests against his authoritarian rule, but thousands of demonstrators had remained camped out in front of the army headquarters calling for the generals to cede power to civilians.
Despite several initial breakthroughs, talks between the ruling military council that took power after Bashir’s ouster and protest leaders collapsed over who should head a new governing body.
‘Feeling of terror’ –
Some life had returned to the streets of the capital on Thursday, with limited public transport operating and only a few cars on the roads.
A small number of shops and restaurants were open on the second day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
But in Omdurman, just across the Nile from Khartoum, a resident said there was a “feeling of terror” about “many military vehicles with all these weapons”.
“We hope that this situation will end quickly so normal life resumes,” he told reporters.
At Khartoum’s airport, relatives of travellers stayed late into the night waiting to see if their flights would arrive, following a slew of cancellations over the past few days.
Internet blackouts continued to beset the city.
The African Union suspended Sudan, “until the effective establishment of a civilian-led Transitional Authority, as the only way to allow the Sudan to exit from the current crisis”, it said on Twitter.
The AU had urged the ruling generals to ensure a smooth transition of power, but the brutal crackdown to disperse protesters saw pressure mount on it to bring those responsible for the violence to justice.
The European Union said it joined the AU in calling for “an immediate end to violence and a credible enquiry into the criminal events of the last days”.
France called for the “resumption of dialogue” between the military committee and the opposition so that an “inclusive agreement is quickly found”.
‘Extreme caution’ –
The United Nations and the British embassy announced they were pulling non-essential staff and their families from Sudan, and the United States warned its citizens to exercise “extreme caution” amid the ongoing uncertainty.
Despite the heavy presence of security forces on Khartoum’s main streets, the groups that spearheaded the demonstrations against Bashir made a fresh call on Thursday for civil disobedience.
“The revolution continues and our people are victorious despite the terrorism and violence of the militias,” the Sudanese Professionals Association, the group that initially launched the anti-Bashir campaign, posted on Twitter.
It urged an “indefinite strike and civil disobedience,” warning against calls for violence.
In the northern suburb of Bahri, smaller roads were blocked by protesters putting up makeshift barricades made from rocks, bricks and tree trunks.
The protesters blamed the bloody crackdown on the “militias” of the military council.
The Rapid Support Forces have been singled out by protesters.
Some residents seemed wary of the heavy deployment of paramilitaries in the streets of the capital.
RSF commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as “Himediti,” said he was on the side of the “revolutionaries” but warned he would not “allow chaos,” referring specifically to the barricades put up in some neighbourhoods.
The ruling Military Council issued a statement hitting out at the “campaign organised on social media aimed at spreading lies and fabricating accusations”.
It said the RSF “refused to carry out the orders of the former regime to expel demonstrators from the sit-in by force”.
452 Illegal Migrants Rescued, Returned to Libya in One Week – IOM
No fewer than 452 illegal migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast in the past week, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reports.
“In the period of January 19 to 25, 2021, 452 migrants were rescued/intercepted at sea and returned to Libya,” the IOM said.
The organisation also said that 12 illegal migrants died and 67 others went missing on the Central Mediterranean route so far this year.
Thousands of illegal immigrants choose to cross the Mediterranean from Libya towards Europe, as the North African country has been mired in insecurity and turmoil since a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-backed uprising killed the country’s long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
In 2020, 323 migrants died and 417 others went missing on the Central Mediterranean route, while 11,891 illegal migrants were rescued and returned to Libya, according to the IOM.
Tunisian Foreign Minister Tests Positive for COVID-19
The minister said he had been exhibiting severe symptoms and urged Tunisians to protect themselves from the virus.
Tunisia’s foreign minister, Othman Jerandi has tested positive for COVID-19.
Jerandi made his COVID status public on his official twitter page.
“My COVID-19 test was positive today, although I complied with health protocols and adhered to all measures,” Othman Jerandi said on Twitter.
Tunisia’s foreign minister said he had been exhibiting severe symptoms and urged Tunisians to protect themselves from the virus.
“This has made me more insistent on the supply of vaccines to protect my country’s people from the pandemic,” he added.
According to a tally by US-based Johns Hopkins University, Tunisia has reported more than 197,000 infections and over 6,200 deaths from the virus. More than 144,000 people have so far recovered.
Since December 2019 when the virus originated in China, the pandemic has claimed more than 2.12 million lives in 192 countries and regions.
According to Johns Hopkins, recorded COVID-19 cases worldwide have exceeded 99.13 million, with recoveries over 54.69 million.
In terms of cases, the worst hit countries remain the US, India and Brazil.
Earlier this month, a 4-day nationwide lockdown was imposed in Tunisia. The lockdown started from Thursday January 14, as authorities moved to curb alarming covid-19 contaminations.
The measure which the country took reduce the spread of the virus includes a nationwide curfew from 4pm to 6am, suspension of school classes until January 24, and a ban on all cultural events. Restaurants and cafes were ordered not to provide seats for their clients.
The move came a few days after President Kais Saied lambasted the government over the handling of the pandemic despite several measures put in place to stem contaminations.
100,000 Displaced, 250 Dead in Sudan’s Renewed Violence
No fewer than 250 people died in a flare-up of violence between communities in Sudan’s Darfur region over the past week, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on Friday.
According to the UNHCR, at least 100,000 people were left displaced in the renewed hostilities.
The UN Human Rights Office, which published a slightly lower death count, said armed clashes broke out between Arab communities and internally displaced people of the Masalit community on Saturday and Sunday in West Darfur.
As gunshots were fired and homes torched, 160 people were reportedly killed and 215 injured, the UN Human Rights Office said.
In a separate incident on Monday, 72 people died and 73 were injured in South Darfur’s town of Gereida in a land dispute between the Falata and Reizigat tribes, according to the UN Human Rights Office.
“These incidents raise serious concerns about the imminent risk of further violence in Darfur,’’ UN rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said at a news briefing.
She added that the region was rife with decades-old ethnic and tribal tensions.
Ramdasani urged Sudan’s government to restore order and to break the cycle of armed citizens taking the law into their own hands to avenge attacks on members of their communities.
The clashes occurred about two weeks after the UN peacekeepers discontinued their patrols in the Darfur region, preparing for a full withdrawal.
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