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Clashes among armed forces in Sudan during protests

April 09, 2019 00:00:00

KHARTOUM: An army vehicle going past protesters near the military HQ on Monday morning — AFP

KHARTOUM, Apr 08 (BBC): Elements of Sudan's military have acted to protect protesters in Khartoum after security forces fired tear gas to break up a mass sit-in, eyewitnesses say.

Soldiers tried to chase away pick-up trucks firing tear gas, on the second night of a sit-in protest calling for President Omar al-Bashir to resign.

Protesters sought shelter in a navy facility, a witness said, as tension among the armed forces was laid bare.

Mr Bashir has so far refused demands to make way for a transitional government.

One protester told the BBC's Newsday programme that a number of pick-up trucks arrived and began firing tear gas and live ammunition at the thousands of sit-in protesters in the Sudanese capital.

She said the military was at first neutral but then tried to chase the security forces away.

It is unclear who the security forces were but BBC Africa editor Fergal Keane says reports indicate they included agents from the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

The eyewitness said the security forces returned for a second attack and people then ran towards a navy facility to seek shelter from the prolonged firing.

Ali Ibrahim, of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has organised the protest, told EFE news agency that military units had fired into the air to prevent security forces dispersing the sit-in.

There are unconfirmed reports of casualties from the scene. Video on social media showed protesters hiding behind walls as shots ran out.

One resident of a district 5km (3 miles) away told Reuters the tear gas could be felt there.

The sit-in is taking place outside the army HQ and Agence France-Presse quotes witnesses as saying the army has now deployed troops around the building and is erecting barricades in streets near the compound. The army's intentions surrounding the protest remain unclear.

Information Minister Hassan Ismail said the protesters in front of the HQ had been "cleared completely" and the security apparatus was "coherent and working with positive energy and in harmony".

The Sudanese state has numerous armed groups and there are signs of tensions between them.

The demonstrators accuse the NISS and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of attempting to drive them away from the protest. The RSF is a militia loyal to President Bashir which is made up of former members of the Janjaweed, the fighters accused of carrying out many atrocities in Darfur.

Over the past 48 hours, several protesters have told the BBC that members of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have protected them from the NISS and RSF.

However, many Sudanese still distrust the armed forces, because of their role in keeping President Bashir in power and their conduct in the country's succession of civil wars.

Some analysts believe that mid-ranking SAF officers are sympathetic to the protesters, with the top brass more likely to be loyal to the president. But the position of all the armed groups is one of the key questions in Sudan today.

It started on Friday when protesters descended on the zone outside the HQ to call for the removal of Mr Bashir and his government.

It was the biggest protest against the president since unrest began in December and marked the 34th anniversary of the coup that overthrew the regime of former President Jaafar Nimeiri.

The demonstrators appear to be hoping for an internal coup, pleading with the army command to remove Mr Bashir, who has been in power for nearly 30 years, and open the way for a transitional government.

The police say only one person has died in the latest protests - in Omdurman, Khartoum's twin city - but social media reports suggest at least five protesters have been killed.

Since the unrest began, Human Rights Watch says protest-related violence has killed 51 people, although officials put the figure at 32, AFP reports.

The protests were originally sparked by a hike in the cost of living but demonstrators are now calling for the president to go.

Sudan's economy has long been strained since the US imposed sanctions more than 20 years ago, accusing Khartoum of sponsoring terror groups.

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