Millions of people in Sudan have joined a general strike called by pro-reform groups, shutting down the centre of cities across the country despite a wave of arrests and intimidation, The Guardian reports. The massive shutdown was called to take place on Sunday, the first day of the working week, and is aimed at relaunching an opposition movement battered by a brutal crackdown and forcing the country’s new military leaders to resign.
The Alliance for Freedom and Change (AFC) [also referred to as the FFC, Forces for Freedom and Change] of which the Sudanese Professionals’ Association is a key component, together with trade union organisations, called on people to stay away from work, bringing the capital and all main cities and ports in the country to a standstill, involving millions of people. The SPA said airport workers and pilots were taking part in the civil disobedience, and posted photos of a deserted Khartoum international airport. The same has happened at the Central Bank, where many of the staff have stayed away from work. Shops were closed and streets were empty throughout the capital, Khartoum, and in the neighbouring Omdurman.
In Ed Damazin, in the Blue Nile state, the local resistance committees are blocking roads despite the militias attempting to stop them. In El Gadaref, similar preparations have been underway. The AFC in El Obeid in North Kordofan has held mass rallies, with a large response from the local resistance committees, and widespread participation in the strike. Port Sudan Airport is also on strike, as are also the port workers. The railway workers’ union in Atbara has also organised a strike.
The Sudanese Professionals Association said it had called on people to stay home in protest at the deaths of more than 100 people on Monday last week, when security forces violently dispersed a pro-democracy sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum. “The peaceful resistance by civil disobedience and the general political strike is the fastest and most effective way to topple the military council … and to hand over power to a transitional civilian authority,” the SPA said.
The military took power after ousting the then president, Omar al-Bashir, in April after months of mass rallies. The ruling Transitional Military Council has since refused demonstrators’ demands for an immediate move to civilian rule, instead pushing for a transitional power-sharing arrangement.
Talks between the opposition Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces alliance and the TMC, which took power after Bashir’s departure, ground to a halt last month then collapsed altogether after the raid on the protest camp.
Residents said heavily armed paramilitaries from the Rapid Support Forces were patrolling parts of Khartoum while the regular army has now deployed in some parts of Omdurman. The RSF, which is largely made up of militias accused of systemic human rights abuses during the war in Darfur, has been blamed for the killings last week. The force is led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo – known as Hemedti – who also serves as the deputy head of the TMC.
The Sudan Doctors’ Committee, the medical affiliate of the SPA, said at least three people were killed on Sunday, including a young man who was shot dead by the RSF in Khartoum’s Bahri neighbourhood. The other two died of their injuries after RSF forces beat them in Omdurman, it said.
Activists say that professionals including bankers, doctors, air traffic control staff, pilots, electrical engineers and economists have been targeted by intelligence services in what they say is an obvious attempt to break the strike. Activists said the total number of people detained by security services in recent days was unclear but was probably in the hundreds. The internet remains cut off in Khartoum, with other communications significantly restricted.
Sudan’s military leaders have come under increasing international pressure in recent days. The brutal crackdown prompted outrage in the west while the African Union suspended the country and threatened sanctions if there was no swift transition to democracy.
Even Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates appear to be moderating their previous policy of unconditional support for the TMC, after calls to senior officials from counterparts in Washington.
The TMC will be hoping the opposition will not be able to sustain the shutdown for longer than a few days and, if the strike continues, will face a difficult choice: make concessions or intensify repression, risking further isolation and economic difficulties.