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Sudan's Bashir vows to crush opposition protests

Omar al-Bashir has vowed to brutally crush anti-regime protests [AFP]

Date of publication: 12 December, 2016

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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir issued a chilling warning to activists, warning he will crush anti-regime protests and threatened to repeat a deadly 2013 crackdown on demonstrators.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir vowed to brutally crush anti-regime protests, warning that authorities will crack down on demonstrators as the government did in the bloody 2013 suppression of opposition protests.

"In the past few days we have heard some people who are hiding behind their keyboards calling for the overthrow of the regime," Bashir told supporters gathered in the eastern town of Kasala.

"We want to tell them that if you want to overthrow the regime then face us directly on the streets. I challenge you to come out onto the streets," he continued.

"But we know you will not come because you know what happened in the past... this regime will not be overthrown by keyboards and WhatsApp," Bashir said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

His warning came as opposition activists issued a new call to hold a two-day nationwide strike next week against a government decision to cut fuel subsidies that has led to rising prices for goods including medicines.

In 2013, dozens of people were killed in a government crackdown on street protests following popular anger at an earlier round of subsidy cuts.

Rights groups say about 200 lives were lost in that crackdown, while the government puts the death toll at less than 100.

In recent weeks, groups of people have staged sporadic demonstrations against the latest cuts but they were swiftly dispersed by anti-riot police.

Opposition activists have now taken to social media networks like Facebook and Twitter as well as WhatsApp messenger to call for a new nationwide "sit-at-home" strike on 19 and 20 December.

They urged people to stage street protests in Khartoum and other cities to "overthrow the regime".

A similar three-day strike in late November saw a mixed response, with some private sector employees abstaining from work although most government employees reported for duty.

Calls to step down

Earlier this month, a coalition of 23 opposition parties and groups signed a petition demanding that Bashir steps down.

They proposed the formation of a transitional government that would hold a national conference for all political parties, as well as begin working on ending conflict and delivering aid to war zones.

The petition also cited "grave mistakes" made by Bashir's regime since he came to power in 1989.

These failings led to the separation and independence of South Sudan in 2011, as well as the ongoing conflict in Darfur and South Kordofan, and the country's ailing economy.

Members of the coalition brought the petition to the presidential palace, but security agents told them there was no one available to receive it, the spokesperson for the Sudanese Communist Party told The New Arab at the time.

Fathy Fadl added that security forces then cordoned his party's headquarter, where the coalition members convened to discuss the next step.

Press Freedom

Members of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have seized entire print runs of several dailies that reported the opposition strike call or questioned the cuts.

Authorities have also halted broadcasts by the privately owned Omdurman Channel, accusing it of operating without a licence, a charge its owner denied.

To protest the crackdown on newspapers, members of the media staged a small demonstration in central Khartoum on 30 November wearing "journalists on strike" badges.

"The authorities are harassing us and restricting our freedom of speech," said one journalist, a member of the Sudanese Journalists' Network, an unofficial group that advocates free speech.

Media workers in Sudan are frequently targeted during reporting duties, and journalists frequently complain of harassment from the authorities.

NISS often confiscates the entire print runs of newspapers over articles it deems offensive, rarely explaining why.

In November, Sudanese security agents seized every copy of three opposition newspapers - including al-Tayyar - after they reported a rise in the country's fuel prices.

"Security agents came to our printers early this morning and took all copies of today's edition without giving any reason," Mirgani said at the time.

In September 2015, all copies of al-Khartoum and al-Sudani newspapers were confiscated after they reported critical stories about water poisoning in the country's south.

The country regularly ranks near the bottom of international press freedom indexes.

It ranked 174 out of 178 countries on Reporters Without Borders' 2016 international press freedom index.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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