Sudan protesters end strike, set to resume talks with army

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Activists called off a general strike and civil disobedience campaign as more businesses reopened and traffic returned to its normal bustle on Wednesday in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum following last week’s deadly clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and security forces in the country’s political crisis.

Security forces violently dispersed the main protest sit-in on June 3 in Khartoum, killing over 100 people in the capital and across the country in a sweeping crackdown, according to protest organizers. It was an alarming turn in the two-month standoff between the protest movement and the military, which removed President Omar al-Bashir from power in April amid a popular uprising against his rule.

The Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, which represents the protesters’ demand for civilian rule, called on people to return to work across Sudan, after the three-day general strike, on late Tuesday.

Its decision reflected a growing desire for the protest leaders and the ruling military council to avoid a further escalation, after a week of violence.

“We are highly optimistic that the negotiations will be resumed, and things will be back to normal and they will achieve an agreement,” said Yousef Hassan, a teacher from Khartoum.

Activists, however, took to social media to criticize the FDFC’s decision, declaring that protest leaders, in calling off the strike, had diminished their ability to pressure the generals to give up power.

“The problem was not calling off the disobedience, but was its abrupt suspension. It seemed that you are giving orders to people,” said Hammour Ziada, a Sudanese novelist and activist.

According to protest leaders, theirs was a practical decision. The general strike was successful on its first day, Sunday, but the campaign had lost momentum by Monday and Tuesday, they said.

The move came amid continued efforts by neighboring Ethiopia to end the standoff between the two sides. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed set out to revive the negotiations on his visit to Khartoum on Friday.

Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the military council and the FDFC had agreed to resume their talks soon, “in good-faith to iron-out the remaining outstanding points,” including setting up a government council to run Sudan during a set transition period.

The statement added that all previous deals between the generals and protest leaders, despite the break in talks earlier this month, have been restored. These would include a three-year transition period, a Cabinet appointed by the protester leaders, and a legislative body with a civilian majority from the FDFC.

The ministry said both sides also agreed to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and de-escalate tensions, and that the military council would to take confidence-building measures including the release of political prisoners.

Rasha Awad, editor of the Sudanese daily Al-Tahgyeer, said the FDFC gambled on international pressure on the military after last week’s violent crackdown.

She said the protest leaders hoped that the Ethiopian initiative, which is apparently backed by the U.S., would lead to a hand over of power to civilians.

“The gamble is that this mediation succeeded in getting both sides to return to the negotiations, which are expected to fail unless there was international pressure,” she said.

U.N. experts meanwhile on Wednesday were concerned that Sudan is sliding into a “human rights abyss” in the aftermath of the security forces’ deadly clampdown.

The experts, appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, called for an independent investigation into violations against peaceful protesters in Sudan.