Sudanese authorities on Thursday shut down news broadcaster Al Jazeera’s Khartoum office, as thousands of protesters gathered outside the country’s military headquarters to pressure the ruling generals to cede power.
The sprawling military complex has become the focal point of the weeks-long protest movement, which is calling for the country’s Transitional Military Council to hand over power to civilians, following the ousting of longtime autocrat, President Omar al-Bashir in April.
Late Thursday, the Qatari television channel said its bureau was abruptly shut down and its journalists banned from reporting in the country with immediate effect, without being given a reason.
“They told us that the military council had decided to close the Al Jazeera network’s office and withdraw its license,” bureau director Al-Musallami Al-Kabbashi told AFP.
The news channel, which regularly broadcasts footage of the demonstrations in Sudan, is funded by Doha, a close ally of former president Bashir.
“The Network sees this as an attack on media freedom, professional journalism, and the basic tenets of the right for people to know and understand the reality of what is happening in Sudan,” Al Jazeera said in a statement published online.
Meanwhile, the military council said incidents on the margins of the protest site were threatening public safety.
“In the face of those developments that threaten public security and safety,” authorities would “work in accordance with the law to guarantee citizens’ safety and to resolve manifestations of insecurity and lawlessness,” it said in a statement.
Chanting slogans in favour of a civilian government, singing and waving Sudanese flags, the mostly young protesters gathered after dusk on Thursday to join the demonstration.
“We’re here to confirm our basic demand for a civilian authority in the transitional period until we can guarantee a real democratic transition,” said Mohamed Hasan, a young protester outside the military headquarters.
The Alliance for Freedom and Change protest movement had called for people to gather at the site on Thursday for a “million-strong march”.
“The goals of our revolution will be reached by peacefulness and not by violence,” Wajdi Saleh, a spokesman for the protest group, said as he addressed the crowd.
‘We want a civil state’ –
The latest demonstration came the day after a two-day general strike to pressure the military council to resume suspended talks on the future shape of a transitional authority.
The two sides had agreed on many aspects of a political transition, including its duration and the bodies to oversee it.
But negotiations broke down over the question of whether a planned transitional body would be headed by a civilian or military figure.
The army ousted Bashir on April 11 after months of protests against his autocratic, three-decade rule.
Thousands of protesters have remained camped outside the sprawling Khartoum military compound ever since.
The generals, backed by key Arab powers, have resisted calls from African and Western governments to hand over the reins of power.
Hundreds of women marched through central Khartoum earlier in the day calling for a civilian government.
As they made their way through the capital to the sit-in, they chanted: “Freedom, peace, justice, civil government is the people’s choice!”
“The Sudanese woman demands… justice, equality democracy, a civil government and fair government,” said Hoyam al-Taj, a journalist in her thirties taking part in the march.
Nada Hashem, a young mother in brightly coloured traditional Sudanese dress, agreed.
“We want a civil state that will guarantee our rights as women and guarantee us a dignified life,” she told AFP.
The head of the ruling military council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was in Saudi Arabia on Thursday to attend summits with Arab and Muslim leaders.
A statement from the council said that “several bilateral meetings are planned”.