Khartoum/London, Asharq Al-Awsat – The confrontation between the ruling National Congress party which is led by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and the Sudanese opposition parties and the SPLM spilled onto the streets of Khartoum last Monday. Clashes also broke out between the police and opposition and SPLM supporters in the city of Omdurman, after police banned an opposition demonstration that intended to march on parliament and hand a letter demanding that the democratization laws be passed quickly to the Sudanese Parliamentary Speaker.
The police detained dozens of demonstrators for several hours including MPs and ministers affiliated to the SPLM. The First Vice President of Sudan and SPLM leader, Salva Kiir, called on the Sudanese people for calm in exercising their constitutional right of freedom of expression and [the right to] peaceful protest, and he denied that his movement is seeking a return to [civil] war. Kiir made these remarks following a telephone conversation with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
The opposition said they would continue the demonstrations in the coming days, and that their ranks would swell to the millions. National Congress officials, on the other hand, insisted that what is happening is an attempt to topple the government by inciting a popular uprising.
General Mohamed al-Hafiz Hassan Attia, Director of the Khartoum State police, said that the police forces “dealt with the political march based on the consideration that it is illegal.”
There were conflicting figures surrounding these arrests. Sources that spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat said that around 60 people were arrested in front of parliament in various other locations around the capital, including SPLM Secretary-General Pagan Amum, his deputy Yasir Arman, along with a number of SPLM parliamentary MPs. In addition to this, 22 women, five journalists, and two lawyers were arrested.
A National Congress party official claimed that only 34 people were detained during this incident.
The majority of those who have [political] immunity were released after just a few hours. The police said that they had used their authority to prevent an increase in the size of the crowds in order to avoid a breakdown in security. The police clamed to have used the necessary amount of force [in dealing with the demonstration] and that they arrested a number of those participating in the march, but they were not imprisoned as has been reported in some foreign media.
The opposition parties and the SPLM formed an alliance following the Juba Declaration in October, with all parties agreeing to pressure the Khartoum government to accept democratization.
The demonstrators who were released met at the SPLM headquarters in the Muqrin district in Central Khartoum following their release. SPLM and opposition leaders addressed the crowd that had gathered there following the demonstration.
SPLM Secretary-General Pagan Amum vowed that the demonstrations will continue until the National Congress party responds to their demands. He said “We will put pressure on them to awaken their consciences and hand over power to the people.”
The leader of the Islamic Popular National Congress Party, Dr. Hassan al-Turabi was also present. He accused the National Congress party of “stealing the power and wealth of the country.” He added “they have no supporters, and they have exploited the poverty stricken police officers and used them against the demonstrators.” Al-Turabi told the crowd “we will respond to force with force.”
Sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the opposition parties met on Monday night in order to evaluate the rally, and to develop a plan to initiate more [political] rallies in the coming days.
Violent clashes occurred between the police and demonstrators outside of parliament, and also in the area around the East Omdurman police station, with demonstrators being subject to police violence. A journalist present at the rally told Asharq Al-Awsat that she was hit in the head by a policeman, and that a number of demonstrators were taken to hospital due to their injuries.
SPLM Secretary-General Pagun Amum claimed that his deputy, Yasir Arman, was beaten whilst in police custody, resulting in him being transferred to hospital for treatment. Amum said that Yasir Arman had been released from hospital, and that he was in “good health.”
Yasir Arman described the clampdown on the rally as being “a ridiculous scene that not even the Taliban government would have done.” He also confirmed that further rallies will be taking place throughout Sudan.
Meanwhile, Ummah Party member, Dr. Mariam Sadiq al Mahdi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the situation is unfortunate, and that what is happening is a flagrant violation of the interim constitution. She said, “The National Congress party clearly showed that it does not respect the peace agreements and the constitution, and that [it believes] that the entire country belongs to it.”
She added “there can be no talk about democratization in light of the National Congress using all elements of the State to suppress the people.”
Al Mahdi also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the authorities had arrested Sadiq al-Turabi, the son of Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, as well as lawyer Sata al Hajj and Hajj Warraq, along with a number of journalists. Some of those arrested were released within a few hours, but al-Mahdi said that SPLM leaders remained in custody.
First Vice President of Sudan and President of the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, met with members of his government in a closed session.
Asharq Al-Awsat managed to get hold of a copy of the speech given by Salva Kiir to the Sudanese people. In this speech, he calls for calm, and reveals that he has spoken with President al-Bashir regarding the situation in the country, and he confirms that the two partners will continue to have a dialogue on solving Sudan’s outstanding issues with regards to the democratization law. Kiir also revealed that al-Bashir assured him that all [opposition] detainees would be released, and that the two presidents had discussed the urgent need for parliament to pass the democratization law as soon as possible. Kiir also revealed that he had asked for the parliamentary session to be extended until these laws were pushed through.
Kiir also expressed his shock at the arrest of SPLM leaders and parliamentarians. This rally coincided with the resumption of the parliamentary session to discuss a range of laws [including democratization]. According to the organizers of the rally, they were supposed to deliver a document to parliament calling for the Sudanese leadership to resolve the outstanding issues in the country, from implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, to bringing peace to Darfur.
Whilst the conflict was raging outside of parliament, the Trade Union law was discussed, however events outside of parliament cast a shadow on parliament, and arguments broke out between the National Congress MPs and the SPLM representatives. According to journalists present at the parliamentary session, the parties exchanged heated words and accused one another of seeking to sabotage the forthcoming elections which are scheduled for April 2010.
On Sunday, the day before the demonstration, the police announced that any demonstration was illegal, and that if this took place “it would be dealt with by the law.” The government also issued a decision announcing that Monday would be a public holiday for those working in Khartoum, the reason given for this was to “give citizens the chance to register for the elections.” However those monitoring the events [in Sudan] claim that this was a “precautionary and calculated” measure [by the government] against any acts of violence that may occur as a result of the demonstration.
Khartoum therefore awoke on Monday to a state of extreme tension, with a heavy police presence in most areas of the city, and with pedestrians being stopped from approaching the area surrounding Sudan’s parliament. Sudanese MPs were only granted access after proving their identity. According to eye-witnesses, SPLM parliamentarian Yasir Arman attempted to enter parliament along with a group of SPLM members, however the SPLM members were denied entry. Arman attempted to intervene, and the situation escalated and ended with the arrest of the entire group, who were transferred to a police station in southern Khartoum. A journalist who was arrested revealed that the police were forced to release detainees due to lack of space and in order to accommodate new detainees. She said “we [journalists] were released after a short period of time, along with the MPs who were detained.”
Apart from the area surrounding Sudan’s parliament Khartoum’s streets were practically empty. According to a number of shopkeepers that Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to, this was due to the official government holiday and fears of violence. Mohamed Hussein, the owner of a shop in the southern market told Asharq Al-Awsat that he did not open his shop due to fears of riots like those that occurred following the death of Sudanese Vice President John Garang.
For his part, General al-Tayyib Babiker, Director of Operations in the Khartoum State police said in a press statement that the police were able to break up the rally that had been initiated by some political forces because they did not obtain the proper license [to hold such a rally] from the relevant authorities. He also claimed that the opposition demonstrations were arrested quietly without the use of force, contrary to what was claimed by many opposition leaders and the media. He stressed that nobody had been beaten or detained, and that “what happened was arrest not imprisonment, and this was under the legal powers of the police.”
Sudanese State Minister for Information also said that the police dealt with the demonstrators according to legal procedure. In a statement to the press he said “Sudan is on the verge of a new phase, and this [demonstration] in our opinion is [an attempt] to escape from the elections, particularly since the [democratization] laws are being discussed in parliament, and the SPLM is the cause of its delay.”
The Sudanese Minister said that the procedures taken against the demonstration was to prevent the possibility of a repeat of the unrest that occurred in the capital and other Sudanese cities following the death of the SPLM leader, John Garang, in a plane crash in 2005.