SUN 20 - 1 - 2019
Jan 3, 2019
The Daily Star
Sudan’s largest opposition bloc calls for Bashir to go
CAIRO: Sudan’s largest opposition bloc joined calls by a wide array of political groups for President Omar al-Bashir to step down, turning up the pressure on the longtime autocrat after two weeks of street protests. Nidaa al-Sudan, or Sudan’s Call, said in a statement Wednesday that it wanted Bashir and his administration to go and for a transition toward democracy to begin.
Nidaa al-Sudan comprises the Umma party of former Prime Minister Sadeq al-Mahdi and rebel groups in the western Kordofan and Darfur regions as well as the Blue Nile region south of Khartoum.
Triggered by widespread discontent with Sudan’s soaring living costs, Sudan has been rocked by near-daily demonstrations over the past two weeks. Protesters have set alight ruling party buildings and have called on Bashir, who took power in 1989, to step down.
The government says 19 people, including two soldiers, have been killed in unrest that began in major cities around Dec. 19. Amnesty International last week said it had credible reports that 37 people were shot dead by security forces in the first five days. Internet users said Sudanese authorities are blocking access to popular social media platforms used to organize and broadcast the protests.
Bashir has ordered the use of force against protesters who have taken to the streets since Dec. 19 to demand his ouster. Authorities also arrested nearly two dozen opposition leaders.
In a country where the state tightly controls traditional media, the internet has become a key information battleground. Of Sudan’s 40 million people, some 13 million use the internet and more than 28 million own mobile phones, local media say.
Authorities have not repeated the internet blackout they imposed during deadly protests in 2013. But the head of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service, Salah Abdallah, told a rare news conference on Dec. 21: “There was a discussion in the government about blocking social media sites and in the end it was decided to block them.”
Users of the three main telecommunications operators in the country - Zain, MTN and Sudani - said access to Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp has only been possible through use of a virtual private network, which activists have used them widely to organize and document the demonstrations.
Hashtags in Arabic such as “Sudan’s_cities_revolt” have been widely circulated from Sudan and abroad. Hashtags in English such as #SudanRevolts have also been used.
NetBlocks, a digital rights NGO, said data it collected, including from thousands of Sudanese volunteers, provided evidence of “an extensive internet censorship regime.”
The African nation, which devalued its pound at least three times in 2018, is suffering from severe cash shortages and inflation of almost 70 percent. Sudan’s central bank governor Mohammad Khair al-Zubair said Tuesday that the country is seeking funding from unidentified nations to ease its economic crisis.
Zubair outlined a three-month plan to boost revenue, bring in hard currency and print more banknotes.
Zubair didn’t identify who Sudan may tap for funds. The country has experienced economic turmoil since South Sudan seceded in 2011 and took with it about three-quarters of the united nation’s oil reserves. The U.S. lifted most of its two-decade-old sanctions on Sudan in late 2017.
Unidentified Gulf Arab nations extended about $2 billion in concessional loans to Sudan in 2015, the Finance Ministry said at the time, while state media in the past two years has reported the central bank receiving deposits from the United Arab Emirates.
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