Sudan internet cuts complicate civil disobedience campaign against coup


FILE PHOTO: Protesters carry a banner and national flags as they march against the Sudanese military's recent seizure of power and ousting of the civilian government, in the streets of the capital Khartoum, Sudan October 30, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin/File Photo

KHARTOUM (Reuters) -Sudanese pro-democracy groups launched two days of civil disobedience and strikes on Sunday in protest against last month's military coup, though participation appeared to be limited by interruptions to internet and phone connections.

In a sign of the potential for the coup to unravel efforts to end decades of internal conflict, armed rebel factions that signed a peace deal last year rejected the coup and called for the ending of a state of emergency.

Local resistance committees and the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which led demonstrations in an uprising that toppled long-serving autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019, are organising a campaign of protests and barricades to try to reverse the military takeover.

People were out on Sunday on the streets in the centre of the capital, Khartoum, though there was less traffic than usual, residents said.

A teachers' union said security forces used tear gas at the education ministry building for Khartoum State to break up a sit-in staged to oppose any handover to military appointees. Some 87 people were arrested, it said.

In several areas in Eastern Khartoum, across the river in the Ombada area of Omdurman, police also used tear gas to break up protests, eyewitnesses said. On one major Khartoum street, security forces in civilian clothing were seen alongside police, they said.

There were protests too in the cities of Medani, Nyala, and Atbara, where hundreds protested the re-appointment of Bashir loyalists in local government, eyewitnesses said.

INTERNET DISRUPTION

Some hospitals and medical staff in Khartoum were working normally while others were on strike.

"A number of people did not know about the call for civil disobedience because of the internet cut," said one resident in central Khartoum who asked not to be identified.

Internet services have been almost completely disrupted since the Oct. 25 coup, and phone coverage remains patchy. Though daily life came to a near standstill after the takeover, shops, roads, and some banks have since reopened.

The coup halted a power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilians that had been agreed after Bashir's overthrow and was meant to lead to democratic elections by late 2023.

Top civilians including several ministers were detained, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was placed under house arrest.

Since then, mediation efforts involving the United Nations have sought the release of detainees and a return to power sharing, but sources from the ousted government say those efforts have stalled.

Since Bashir was toppled, Sudan had been emerging from decades of isolation and internal wars. A peace agreement signed last year with rebel groups was intended to bring several of those long-running conflicts to an end.

The Sudanese Revolutionary Front, which said it rejected the coup, includes rebel groups led by three men who had sat on a military-civilian ruling council dissolved during the takeover: Elhadi Idris and Altahir Hajar from Darfur and Malik Agar of the southern SPLM-N.

Two other major rebel groups which did not sign the peace agreement have also rejected the coup. Some signatories of the peace deal, including Darfur rebel group leaders Jibril Ibrahim and Minni Minawi, had aligned with the military in the weeks leading up to the coup.

On Sunday an Arab league delegation met Hamdok and the commander in chief of the military, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

The delegation stressed the importance of dialogue in order to return to a civilian-military partnership, it said in a statement.

Activists demanding that the military exit politics have announced a schedule of protests leading up to mass rallies on Nov. 13, under the slogan "No negotiation, no partnership, no compromise".

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets against military rule in two huge demonstrations before and after the Oct. 25 coup.

Western powers have paused economic assistance to Sudan and say that relief on tens of billions of dollars of foreign debt is at risk unless there is a return to democratic transition.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Nafisa EltahirWriting by Aidan LewisEditing by Gareth Jones and Peter Graff)

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