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Sudan’s latest leader pledges national reform4 min read

General Burhan took the helm of Sudan’s transitional military council on Friday after General Awad Ibn Ouf quit

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Sudanese demonstrators march with national flags as they gather during a rally demanding a civilian body to lead the transition to democracy

Sudan’s second new military leader in as many days vowed Saturday to ‘uproot’ deposed president Omar al-Bashir’s regime and release protesters, in a bid to placate demonstrators demanding civilian rule.

“I announce the restructuring of state institutions according to the law and pledge to fight corruption and uproot the regime and its symbols,” General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said, a day after he was sworn in to head Sudan’s new ruling military council.

He also ordered the release of all prisoners jailed by special emergency courts and the immediate lifting of a night-time curfew imposed by the council earlier this week.

Career soldier Burhan took the helm of Sudan’s transitional military council on Friday when his predecessor General Awad Ibn Ouf — a close aide of ousted veteran president Bashir — quit after little more than 24 hours in power.

Burhan also pledged Saturday that individuals involved in the killing of protesters would face justice.

His initial announcements indicated he wanted to show the tens of thousands of protesters on the streets that he is not part of the regime’s old guard and was genuinely committed to reform.

The new leader also on Saturday accepted the resignation of the head of the feared National Intelligence and Security Service, Salah Abdallah Mohammed Salih — widely known as Salih Ghosh — the military council announced.

Salih Ghosh had overseen a sweeping crackdown led by NISS agents against protesters taking part in four months of mass demonstrations that led to the toppling of Bashir in a palace coup by the army on Thursday.

Demand for civilian rule

Dozens of protesters were killed and thousands of activists, opposition leaders and journalists arrested.

The police said Friday that 16 people had been killed in live fire in Khartoum alone over the previous two days as NISS agents led a desperate last stand for Bashir before the army intervened.

A photograph published by state news agency SUNA had shown Burhan talking with protesters outside army headquarters on Friday, before his elevation to the top job.

Khartoum erupted with joy when Ibn Ouf tendered his resignation on Friday night barely 24 hours after taking the oath of office.

Car horns sounded as jubilant crowds streamed out of their homes chanting: “It fell again, it fell again”.

But the organisers of the mass protests called on demonstrators to keep up their week-old vigil outside army headquarters.

Ibn Ouf had served as Bashir’s defence minister right up to the president’s downfall, after three decades of iron-fisted rule.

A former military intelligence chief, Ibn Ouf remains under US sanctions for his role in the regime’s brutal response to an ethnic minority rebellion which erupted in the western region of Darfur in 2003.

Bashir himself came to power in a 1989 Islamist military coup, which toppled an elected government led by Sadiq al-Mahdi.

Burhan is a career soldier who comes with less baggage from Bashir’s deeply unpopular rule than Ibn Ouf.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), whose grass-roots membership of doctors, teachers and engineers have spearheaded the nationwide protests, hailed Ibn Ouf’s departure as “a victory of the people’s will”.

But it demanded that Burhan swiftly “transfer the powers of the military council to a transitional civilian government”.

“If this does not happen we will continue with our sit-in in front of the army headquarters and other towns,” the SPA said in a statement.

‘Violating the constitution’

Bashir remained in custody and his National Congress Party on Saturday called on the military council to release arrested personnel.

“We consider (the) taking of power by the military council as violating the constitution’s legitimacy,” the NCP said in a statement.

“The NCP rejects the detention of its leaders, among them its acting president” Ahmed Harun, it added, calling for their immediate release.

Outside the Middle East, the formation of a military government to replace Bashir has met with widespread criticism.

The African Union said Bashir’s overthrow by the military was “not the appropriate response to the challenges facing Sudan and the aspirations of its people”.

The European Union urged the army to carry out a “swift” handover to civilian rule.

Former colonial ruler Britain said that the two-year transition announced by the military “is not the answer.”

“We need to see a swift move to an inclusive, representative, civilian leadership,” said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Members of the military council have sought to reassure foreign diplomats about its intentions.

“This is not a military coup, but taking the side of the people,” the council’s political chief Lieutenant General Omar Zain al-Abdin told Arab and African diplomats at a meeting broadcast on state television on Friday.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has long standing arrest warrants against Bashir for suspected genocide and war crimes during the regime’s brutal campaign of repression in Darfur.

But the military council has said it would never extradite him or any other Sudanese citizen.

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Libya airstrike leaves about 7 dead, 30 wounded

At least seven civilians were killed, most of them foreign workers, and 30 wounded in an airstrike on Monday

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Libya airstrike leaves about 7 dead, 30 wounded
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / This picture taken on November 18, 2019 shows the aftermath of a reported air strike on a factory south of the Libyan capital Tripoli where several people were killed according to a spokesman of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

At least seven civilians were killed, most of them foreign workers, and 30 wounded in an airstrike on Monday that hit a biscuit factory in southern Tripoli, Libya’s health ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Amin al-Hachemi told reporters that two Libyans and nationals from Bangladesh, Egypt and Niger died when the factory in Wadi Rabi took a direct hit, with foreign workers also accounting for the 30 wounded.

The suburb has been at the centre of an assault launched in April by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces to wrest control of the capital from fighters loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

Libya airstrike leaves about 7 dead, 30 wounded
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / This picture taken on November 18, 2019 shows the aftermath of a reported air strike on a factory south of the Libyan capital Tripoli where several people were killed according to a spokesman of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

Pro-GNA forces, on their Facebook page, charged that the raid was carried out by United Arab Emirates drones in support of Haftar, from whose camp there was no immediate reaction.

The military strongman is backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, while Turkey and Qatar back his rival, the United Nations-recognised GNA.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The battle for Tripoli, which has come to a standstill on the ground after initial advances by Haftar’s forces, has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced about 120,000 others, according to the UN.

The United States last week urged Haftar to call off his offensive and accused Russia of working to exploit Libya’s latest conflict.

“The United States calls on the ‘Libyan National Army’ to end its offensive on Tripoli,” a joint statement said after a GNA delegation held talks in Washington, referring to Haftar’s self-styled LNA.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / This picture taken on November 18, 2019 in the Libyan town of Tajura, about 14 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli, shows the bodies of victims who were killed a reported air strike at a location south of Tripoli according to a spokesman of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

“This will facilitate further US-Libya cooperation to prevent undue foreign interference, reinforce legitimate state authority and address the issues underlying the conflict,” the statement added.

The US also “underscored support for Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s attempts to exploit the conflict against the will of the Libyan people”.

Western powers have sent mixed signals, with France and Italy welcoming Haftar for visits and US President Donald Trump earlier this year hailing his role in “fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources”.

But the US has since distanced itself from the field marshal and joined calls for a ceasefire.

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Sudanese hope Ethiopian dam ends Blue Nile floods

This year alone, flash flooding has killed more than 60 and injured dozens in Sudan

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The Blue Nile is a renegade river, according to Sudanese farmer Osman Idris, its unpredictable flooding swallows crops and houses as it crashes through Sudan from Ethiopia on its way to Egypt.

“Tonight, the level of water will be low,” said Idris, a resident of Juref Gharb, a small village on the bank of the Blue Nile outside Khartoum.

“Tomorrow, it will swallow all the houses… It’s a renegade river, it rises so fast,” said the 60-year-old, dressed in a traditional Sudanese robe.

For Idris, Ethiopia’s construction of a controversial dam on the Blue Nile is a dream come true, as it promises to regulate the floods that inundate Sudan every rainy season.

This year alone, flash flooding has killed more than 60 and injured dozens in Sudan. 

The Blue Nile joins the White Nile in Khartoum and supplies the overwhelming majority of the Nile’s water, which runs through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea.

Construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam began in 2012, but since then Egypt has sounded the alarm that the project would severely reduce its water supplies. 

Egypt depends on the Nile for about 90 per cent of its irrigation and drinking water and says it has “historic rights” to the river guaranteed by treaties from 1929 and 1959.

It sees the project as an existential threat, fearing Ethiopia’s rapid construction of the dam might lead to water and food scarcity for millions of Egyptians.

More cash crops 

After several rounds of talks failed to resolve the issue, a new dialogue between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan was mediated by the United States in Washington earlier this month.

The three delegations agreed to resolve the dispute by January 15, with ministerial-level talks being held this week in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia insists the $4 billion hydro-electric barrage is essential for its economic growth given that most of its population still lives without electricity.

And in Sudan, farmers hope the dam will provide predictable flow.

Over the years, farmers like Idris who own farms along the Nile have been forced to change their crops due to flood devastation and tonnes of deposited silt.

Brickmakers fire blocks of mud in riverside kilns, producing smoke harmful to crops.

“I had to shift from cultivating fruits and vegetables to animal feed,” Idris told reporters.

Being reliant on flooding for irrigation means only one harvest per year and limits the kind of crops that can be grown.

If the river’s flow were regulated, more intensive agriculture could be practised, Idris said.

“We can plant crops throughout the year. It will be better for the environment and for marketing our products, which means more income for us,” Idris said.

Ekram Dagash, a professor at Khartoum’s Al-Zaiem Al-Azhari University, agreed that Sudan stands to gain from the dam, which will maintain water levels and block unwanted silt.

“Ethiopia is building the dam for one reason only, to produce electricity and export it, not only to neighbouring countries but to the whole African continent,” she told reporters.

Worried brickmakers 

But one group of Sudanese are concerned about the dam: brickmakers, who depend on the silt for their livelihood.

Dozens of small kilns line the river, providing an income for hundreds of brickmakers like Yakoub Noreen.

“If the dam is built, this won’t arrive,” the 40-year-old said of the silt he was standing in, as he pressed wet clay into a mould. 

Nearby, workers stacked bricks into a kiln belching thick smoke. Later they will be sold for 1,500 Sudanese pounds ($32) per 1,000 bricks, Noreen said.

Professor Dagash said workers can be compensated and provided alternative livelihoods if brickworks close, adding that benefits from the dam outweighed such losses.

Vast areas of land would open up for agriculture as well as industrial projects, she said.

“The dam will provide Sudan with low-cost electricity… and low-cost electricity means more growth,” she said.

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Supporters of Sudan’s Bashir oppose handover to ICC

Supporters of ousted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir held a protest Saturday vowing to oppose any move by the country’s new authorities to hand him over to the International Criminal Court

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Supporters of ousted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir held a protest Saturday vowing to oppose any move by the country’s new authorities to hand him over to the International Criminal Court.

Dozens of his supporters, carrying Bashir’s portrait, gathered outside the Khartoum court where he is being tried on charges of illegally acquiring and using foreign funds.

“We are with you. We will never betray you. No, no to ICC,” chanted the crowd as the former president was brought to the courthouse for a hearing.

The demonstration comes amid growing calls from human rights groups, activists and victims of Sudan’s Darfur war for the surrender of Bashir to The Hague-based court.

“President Bashir represents the whole of Sudan. We have an independent judiciary and if any trials are to be held, they must be held here,” said protester Mohamed Ali Daklai.

“We reject any outside or foreign tribunal. ICC is anyway a political court used by Western countries to pressure the weak.”

Bashir was ousted by the army on April 11 following nationwide protests against his iron-fisted rule of three decades.

The military generals who initially seized power after the president’s fall refused to hand Bashir over to the ICC.

He is wanted by the ICC for his alleged role in the Darfur war that erupted in 2003 as ethnic African rebels took up arms against Bashir’s then Arab-dominated government, accusing it of marginalizing the region economically and politically.

Khartoum applied what rights groups say was a scorched earth policy against ethnic groups suspected of supporting the rebels — raping, killing, looting and burning villages.

The ICC has accused Bashir of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the vast western region of Darfur. He denies the charges.

About 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict, according to the United Nations.

Bashir, who ruled Sudan for three decades after seizing power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, is being held in a Khartoum prison and facing trial on corruption charges.

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