The Sudanese vow to continue protesting as the president interferes


Three months after Sudanese demonstrators rallied against President Omar al-Bashir, the long-time autocrat has become more closely tied to the military and refuses to submit to their demands.

The smart 74-year-old has remained in power through three decades of war and sanctions, the separation of oil-rich South Sudan in 2011 and an international arrest warrant for genocide and war crimes related to the Darfur conflict.

Since December, however, he is exposed to the biggest protests of his long reign. Political parties and unions demanded his assassination and demonstrators singing slogans from the Arab Spring of 2011.

A look at the state of affairs, three months later.

Daily protests

The demonstrators still take to the streets almost every day, despite the security forces cracking down on them. The biggest protests take place in the capital Khartoum and near Omdurman, with smaller ones breaking out elsewhere.

Activists said in early February that 57 people were killed while the government 31, including the police, demanded the toll. These figures have not been updated since then, even though clashes have taken place on a regular basis: the police have been distributing demonstrators with tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and truncheons. Hundreds of people have been arrested and are still behind bars.

The umbrella group of independent professional associations, which has led the protests, maintains its demands that the government of al-Bashir be replaced by a transitional government to prepare the country for new elections.

Sarah Abdel-Jaleel, a spokeswoman for the group, said they called for a "total change of regime to meet the needs of the Sudanese people."

"There is no room for compromise with this regime, history tells us that dialogue with the regime was not fruitful," she said. "We will continue our peaceful resistance."

Government closes ranks

Al-Bashir has made little concessions, calling for a national dialogue and calling on Parliament to postpone constitutional changes that would allow him to seek a new term in next year's elections.

Instead, he has tied himself closer to the dreaded security forces of the country and replaced all governors of the state by senior military officials. He has declared a state of emergency, banned all unauthorized assemblies, and gave the security forces extensive powers to suppress the protests.

Al-Bashir also dissolved the government last month. But his handpicked PM announced a new Cabinet on Wednesday holding the defense and foreign ministers in position.

Al-Bashir resigned as leader of the National Congress Party, but transferred power to the Islamist Ahmed Harun, who was also sought by the International Criminal Court for charges of conflict in Darfur in the 2000s.

Al-Bashir's embrace of the military seems to be aimed at preventing a repeat of the coup that brought him to power in 1989.

International silence

Al-Bashir spent most of his term internationally isolated. Western countries expressed concern about the violence in the early days of the protests, but have been largely silent since then.

The Arab countries have now remained largely neutral. They fear that the protests of the Arab Spring, which conquered the region in 2011, could be revived, but consider Al-Bashir an unreliable ally.

The longtime leader has promoted various Gulf states in recent years and played both sides in the Saudi Qatar rivalry without over-commitment. The relations with neighboring Egypt have oscillated in a long-standing border dispute and the construction of a large dam in Ethiopia, which threatens to endanger the Nile share of both countries.

Without strong international pressure, the impasse between the demonstrators and the government seems to continue. At the moment, both sides seem to believe that time is on their side.

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