Security forces fired tear gas Sunday as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the Sudanese capital demanding a return to civilian rule, AFP correspondents said.
Raising Sudanese flags and posters of activists killed during pro-democracy protests, protesters tried to march on the presidential palace in central Khartoum as security forces used tear gas to disperse them.
Others chanted against military rule and erected barricades in North Khartoum and Omdurman, an AFP correspondent said.
Tear gas was also fired in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman and in North Khartoum, where protesters tried to cross the bridge leading to the centre of the capital.
In the eastern city of Kassala, some “800 young men and women” came out to demand civilian rule, eyewitness Hussein Mohamed Shahed told AFP.
Protesters chanted, “soldiers go back to the barracks”, a regular rallying cry in near-weekly protests since last year’s coup toppled civilian leaders.
On October 25, 2021, army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan seized power, arresting civilian leaders and derailing a transition to civilian rule that had started with the 2019 ouster of long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
Protests were reignited last week on the first anniversary of the power grab, when thousands marched across Sudan, demanding an end to the political and economic crisis that has gripped the country.
Security forces fired tear gas at Khartoum marches, and one protester was killed when he was crushed by a military vehicle in Omdurman, according to pro-democracy medics.
According to the medics’ tally, 119 people have been killed while protesting against military rule over the past year.
The coup exacerbated a wider security breakdown that has left hundreds more dead, while the country, already one of the world’s poorest, battles three-digit inflation and chronic food shortages.
At least 150 people have been killed in two days of fighting in the latest ethnic clashes triggered by land disputes in Sudan’s southern Blue Nile state, a medic said Thursday.
The fighting is some of the worst in recent months, and crowds took to the streets of the Blue Nile state capital Damazin in protest, chanting slogans condemning a conflict that has left hundreds dead this year.
Clashes in Sudan’s troubled Blue Nile broke out last week after reported arguments over land between members of the Hausa people and rival groups.
The fighting has centred around the Wad al-Mahi area near Roseires, some 500 kilometres (310 miles) south of the capital Khartoum. Residents on Wednesday reported intense gunfire and houses set on fire.
“A total 150 people including women, children, and elderly were killed between Wednesday and Thursday,” said Abbas Moussa, head of Wad al-Mahi hospital. “Around 86 people were also wounded in the violence.”
On Thursday, hundreds marched through Damazin, some calling for the state governor to be sacked, witnesses said.
“No, no to violence,” the demonstrators chanted.
The UN mission in Sudan said it was “alarmed” by the “resurgence of conflict” in Blue Nile, a region awash with guns bordering South Sudan and Ethiopia, that is still struggling to rebuild after decades of civil war.
Sudan is grappling with deepening political unrest and a spiralling economic crisis since last year’s military coup, led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
The military power grab upended a transition to civilian rule launched after the 2019 ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir, who ruled for three decades.
“Sustainable peace won’t be possible without a fully functional credible government that prioritises local communities’ needs including security, and addresses the root causes of conflict”, the UN added.
A surge in ethnic violence in recent months has highlighted the security breakdown in Sudan since the coup.
Over 546 people have been killed and more than 211,000 forced to flee their homes in inter-communal conflicts across the country from January to September, according to the UN.
Last week, clashes in the same area of Blue Nile sparked by “a dispute over land issues” left at least 13 people dead and 24 injured, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Authorities imposed an overnight curfew in a bid to contain the violence.
Thousands forced to flee
Fighting between the Hausa people and other groups first broke out in July, with some 149 dead and 124 wounded recorded up until early October, according to a toll reported by OCHA.
The July clashes erupted after Hausa members requested the creation of a “civil authority”, that rival groups saw as a means of gaining access to land.
The clashes also triggered angry protests across Sudan, with the Hausa people demanding justice for those killed.
By late July, senior leaders agreed to cease hostilities. Clashes broke out again in September.
In a separate conflict, violence broke out earlier this week around Lagawa in West Kordofan between the Nuba and Arab Misseriya groups, also in the south of Sudan, some 580 kilometres (360 miles) southwest of Khartoum.
The government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission reported 19 dead and 34 injured in that conflict, according to the UN, with 36,500 people fleeing the violence.
The army accused a holdout rebel group of shelling Lagawa on Tuesday, wounding two members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
The impoverished northeast African nation is especially vulnerable given its poor public health services.
According to the UN children’s agency UNICEF, only 70 percent of the 45-million-strong population have “access to a health facility within 30 minutes travel of their home” in Sudan, where 13 of 18 states suffered outbreaks of vector-borne diseases in 2021.
Last month the WHO declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, the highest alarm it can sound.
Thousands of Sudan’s Hausa people set up barricades and attacked government buildings in several cities Monday, witnesses said, after a week of deadly tribal clashes in the country’s south.
In a bid to shed light on the violence in Blue Nile state, which has killed 60 people and wounded 163 others according to local authorities, Hausa activists called for a demonstration Tuesday in Sudan’s capital Khartoum.
The clashes, between the Berti and Hausa tribes, first erupted last Monday after the Bertis rejected a Hausa request to create a “civil authority to supervise access to land”, a prominent Hausa member told AFP on condition of anonymity.
But a senior member of the Bertis had said the tribe was responding to a “violation” of its lands by the Hausas.
Blue Nile governor Ahmed al-Omda on Friday banned public gatherings and marches for one month and imposed a night-time curfew in the state, which borders Ethiopia.
In a statement Monday, he said authorities will “strike with an iron fist” against those inciting “racism, hatred and strife,” according to state news agency SUNA.
Troops were deployed in the Blue Nile on Saturday, and since then an uneasy calm has prevailed there although tensions have escalated elsewhere.
In the eastern city of Kassala, the government banned public gatherings after several thousand Hausa people “set government buildings and shops on fire”, according to eyewitness Hussein Saleh.
“It’s panic in the city centre,” Kassala resident Idriss Hussein told AFP by telephone. He said protesters were “blocking roads and waving sticks.”
In the city of Wad Madani, some 200 kilometres (around 125 miles) south of Khartoum, “hundreds of Hausa people put up stone barricades and burned tires on the main bridge to block traffic”, resident Adel Ahmed told AFP.
Experts say a military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in October 2021 has created a security vacuum that has fostered a resurgence in tribal violence, in a country where deadly clashes regularly erupt over land, livestock, access to water and grazing.
Pro-democracy activists have accused Sudan’s military and ex-rebel leaders who signed a 2020 peace deal of exacerbating ethnic tensions in the Blue Nile for personal gain.
The Hausas are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, with tens of millions of members living in several countries.
There are three million Hausas in Sudan, where they largely follow the majority religion of Islam, but speak their own native language rather than Arabic.
They mostly live off agriculture in Darfur, Al-Jazira state and in the eastern states of Kassala, Gedaref, Sennar and Blue Nile.
An overladen ship crammed with thousands of sheep sank Sunday in Sudan’s Red Sea port of Suakin drowning the animals on board but with all crew surviving, port officials said.
The livestock vessel was exporting the animals from Sudan to Saudi Arabia when it sank after several thousand more animals were loaded on board than it was meant to carry.
“The ship, Badr 1, sank during the early hours of Sunday morning,” a senior Sudanese port official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It was carrying 15,800 sheep, which was beyond its load limits.”
The official said the ship was supposed to carry only 9,000 sheep.
Another official, who said that all crew were rescued, raised concerns over the economic and environmental impact of the accident.
“The sunken ship will affect the port’s operation,” the official said.
“It will also likely have an environmental impact due to the death of the large number of animals carried by the ship”.
Last month, a massive fire broke out in the cargo area of Suakin port, lasting hours and causing heavy damages. It was not clear what caused the blaze.
An investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the fire, but has yet to release its findings.
The historic port town of Suakin is no longer Sudan’s main foreign trade hub, a role which has been taken by Port Sudan, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) away along the Red Sea coast.
There have been moves to redevelop the port, but a 2017 deal with Turkey to restore historic buildings and expand the docks was suspended after the ouster of longtime president Omar al-Bashir.
Sudan remains gripped by a chronic economic crisis, which has deepened following last year’s military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
The military takeover triggered punitive measures, including aid cuts by Western governments, who demanded the restoration of the transitional administration installed after Bashir was toppled.
Sudanese security forces opened fire Monday as protesters in several cities across the northeast African nation marched against military rule and a worsening economic situation, witnesses told AFP.
Costs of bread and transport have soared in recent days, and protesters marched to demand a return to civilian rule and protest the rising cost of living.
Regular protests calling for the civilian rule have taken place since a military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on October 25, with heavy-handed crackdowns leaving 87 dead, according to medics.
“Down with military rule”, protesters chanted in Damazin, a city some 450 kilometres (280 miles) southeast of the capital Khartoum.
Security forces opened fire to disperse protesters, witness Mohamed Abdel Qader said.
On Sunday, the price of bread shot up over 40 percent, from 35 to 50 Sudanese pounds, or from five to eight US cents.
Sudan has been especially vulnerable to fears of global supply shortages in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As costs of fuel spike, the cost of transport has also jumped 50 percent across Sudan.
In Nyala, state capital of South Darfur in the west, security forces fired a barrage of tear gas canisters to stop crowds.
“No to rising costs,” people shouted, according to resident Abdel Moneim Mohamed. “No to military rule.”
– ‘Intolerable’ – Protesters in Nyala also included residents of the vast camps set up when people were forced from their homes during the conflict that broke out in Darfur in 2003.
“The situation has become intolerable,” said Hamad Bashir from Atbara, a city 280 kilometres (175 miles) northeast of Khartoum, a traditional centre of the country’s railway industry.
Bashir said that railway workers have not been paid for two months.
Rail workers began a strike on Sunday, said Hasham Khedr, the head of the Railway Workers’ Union.
Food insecurity is a major issue in impoverished countries, where one in every three people are dependent on aid, according to the United Nations.
The situation was exacerbated when October’s military coup triggered broad international condemnation and punitive measures that included a suspension of $700 million in US aid.
In Khartoum, local “resistance committees” have called for protests to demand a return to civilian rule and the release of detainees.
Authorities have rounded up hundreds of pro-democracy protesters since the coup, many of whom have been released in recent weeks.
On Monday, three protesters were detained in Nyala, activists said.
The October coup derailed a fragile power-sharing agreement between the army and civilians that had been painstakingly negotiated after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir
As much of the West seeks to isolate Russia after it invaded Ukraine, experts say Moscow is boosting relations with its longtime African ally Sudan, eyeing its gold wealth and strategic location.
Khartoum has lost crucial Western support since army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan led a military coup last October, a move that triggered broad condemnation and punitive measures, including a suspension of $700 million in US aid.
On February 23, the day before Russia invaded its neighbour, a Sudanese delegation headed by powerful paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo arrived in Moscow for an eight-day visit.
The two sides discussed “diplomatic, political and economic topics”, as well as “Russian-Sudanese national security… joint cooperation and counterterrorism”, said Daglo, commonly known as Hemeti, at a news conference upon his return.
Sudan relied militarily on Russia under strongman Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in 2019 following three decades in power marked by international isolation and crippling US sanctions.
Russian private companies have reportedly benefited from Sudan’s gold mines by ramping up ties with the military and Daglo’s powerful Rapid Support Forces, which emerged from the Janjaweed militias accused of atrocities during the Darfur conflict that erupted in 2003.
“Moscow has been following a clear and coherent policy… to serve its interests” in Sudan and in Africa more broadly, analyst Khaled al-Tijani said.
“Russian investments in Sudan, especially in gold, and ties with security forces have remained shrouded in ambiguity,” he added.
Researcher Ahmed Hussein said that Daglo likely discussed in Moscow arrangements between his forces and “Russian (security) apparatuses with links in Sudan and Africa, especially Wagner Group”.
Wagner, a Russian private military contractor with links to the Kremlin, has faced accusations of involvement in turmoil in Sudan’s neighbours the Central African Republic and Libya, while French President Emmanuel Macron last month warned of the shadowy group’s “predatory intentions” in Mali.
The European Council on Foreign Relations has said Wagner personnel were deployed in Sudan “to mining exploration sites” following a 2017 meeting between Bashir and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who agreed gold mining deals and negotiated the construction of a Russian naval base on Sudan’s Red Sea coast.
Wagner personnel subsequently provided “a range of political and military assistance” to Bashir’s regime, according to the ECFR.
Also in 2017, Russian mining firm M Invest gained preferential access to Sudan’s gold reserves, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Three years later, the US imposed sanctions on Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has links to M Invest and is believed to own Wagner, for “exploiting Sudan’s natural resources for personal gain and spreading malign influence around the globe”.
The ECFR said Wagner had formed “a triangle of Russian influence linking Sudan, the Central African Republic and Libya”, reflecting “Moscow’s strategic interest in expanding its Africa footprint”.
Daglo’s RSF has itself been involved in the conflicts in Libya and Yemen.
Threats ‘matter little’
As for the planned naval base in the strategic city of Port Sudan, “the Russians need to get to warm-water ports, and the Red Sea is an integral part of that ambition,” Hussein said.
In December 2020, Russia announced a 25-year deal with Sudan to build and operate the base, which would host nuclear-powered vessels and up to 300 military and civilian personnel.
The same month, Washington removed Khartoum’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, a listing that had long crippled its economy.
In 2021, Sudanese military officials said the naval base deal was under “review” after certain clauses were found to be “somewhat harmful”.
Daglo said the base was not on the agenda in Moscow but that Sudan was ready to cooperate “with any country, provided it is in our interests and does not threaten our national security”.
Following Sudan’s October coup, Russia told a UN Security Council meeting that General Burhan was needed to maintain stability, one diplomat had said on condition of anonymity.
Last week, Sudan joined 35 countries in abstaining from a UN General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
For researcher Hussein, Russia’s growing interest in Africa “puts Khartoum in the eye of the storm — turning it into a battlefield for an international conflict that goes far beyond its borders”.
Many fear that Western opposition to the coup is pushing Khartoum further towards Moscow.
“We’re basically offering Sudan to the Russians on a silver platter,” one Western diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The generals sustained themselves under the Bashir-era embargo, which is why threats of isolation matter little today.”
At least 17 civilians have been killed in Sudan’s Darfur region, officials said Friday, in the latest violence between rival groups that has left dozens dead this week alone.
Recent fighting has seen heavily armed forces battle in the rugged Jebel Moon mountains in West Darfur state, close to the border with Chad.
On Thursday, fighting killed 17 people and also left “dozens of injured and missing” as well as “four villages completely burned”, said Adam Regal, spokesman for the General Coordination for Refugees and Displaced in Darfur, an independent aid organisation.
Regal accused the Janjaweed — many of whom have joined the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, de facto deputy leader of Sudan — of taking part in recent fighting.
“Militias have been attacking the villages of Jebel Moon, setting fire to houses and using automatic rifle fire since Sunday,” a tribal leader told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“No government forces have arrived since the attacks on Thursday, and we are terrified of an attack at any time.”
In fighting from last Sunday to Monday, 16 people were killed in clashes between the Masalit — a non-Arab people of largely settled farmers — and Arab groups of herders in Jebel Moon, according to a independent union of medics.
Darfur was ravaged by a civil war that erupted in 2003, pitting ethnic minority rebels who complained of discrimination against the Arab-dominated government of then-president Omar al-Bashir.
Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed militia, mainly recruited from Arab pastoralist tribes, who were blamed for atrocities including murder, rape, looting and burning villages.
The scorched-earth campaign left 300,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million, according to the UN.
The region remains awash with weapons and deadly clashes erupt, often over access to pasture or water.
The latest peace deal was signed in 2020, but since a military coup in October, Darfur has seen violence spike, with hundreds killed since the takeover in fighting between herders and farmers.
Regal warned that “new attacks could occur”.
Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide in Darfur, was ousted in April 2019 and jailed after mass protests against his three-decade rule.
But the latest clashes reflect a broader security breakdown in Darfur following last year’s military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Khartoum, which derailed a transition to full civilian rule negotiated between military and civilian leaders.
In Darfur, the surge in violence has also seen rapes, the burning of villages, as well as UN bases being looted.
At least 82 people have been killed, many of them shot dead, and hundreds wounded by security forces, according to medics. The latest fatality came on Sunday.
“The number of people detained has exceeded 200,” according to a statement by a group of anti-coup lawyers, which confirmed that some had been ordered released.
Multiple political figures and pro-democracy activists are among those who have been detained.
Pro-democracy lawyer Enaam Attik said authorities have ordered that more than 40 people arrested in the crackdown on anti-coup protests be freed.
During Monday’s demonstrations, protesters called on the military “to go back to the barracks” in the city of Wad Madani, south of Khartoum, witnesses said.
In the eastern state of Gedaref they chanted, “Civilian is the people’s choice,” according to witness Amal Hussein.
Demonstrators also marched to rally outside a government building in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan but security forces blocked their route with tear gas, according to witnesses.
In the eastern border state of Kassala, young protesters chanted, “No, no to military rule” as they headed toward a military base in the city, witness Hussein Idris said.
Security forces in the capital Khartoum fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who tried to rally outside the presidential palace, where the ruling Sovereign Council is based along the Nile River, an AFP correspondent said.
The latest demonstrations came one day after United Nations human rights expert Adama Dieng arrived on his first official visit to Sudan.
Dieng is scheduled to meet with senior Sudanese government officials, diplomats, rights defenders and others.
The military takeover derailed a transition to full civilian rule negotiated between military and civilian leaders following the 2019 ouster of strongman president Omar al-Bashir.