Africa

Sudan crisis: African Union membership suspended

Sudanese protesters gesture and chant slogans at a barricade along a street, demanding that the country's Transitional Military Council hand over power to civilians, in Khartoum, Sudan on 5 June 2019 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sudan has seen its most violent week since the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir in April

The African Union has suspended Sudan's membership "with immediate effect", amid an upsurge of violence in the capital that has seen dozens killed.

The pan-African body has warned of further action if power is not transferred to a civilian authority - a key demand of pro-democracy protesters.

Opposition activists say a paramilitary group has killed 108 people this week, but officials put the figure at 46.

Residents said pro-government militia were all over the capital Khartoum

The violence intensified on Monday when security forces stormed a weeks-long sit-in outside military headquarters in the capital. It is the deadliest incident since veteran President Omar al-Bashir was ousted by the military in April after months of peaceful protests.

Talks between opposition activists and the ruling interim military council have since broken down. On Thursday the UK Foreign Office summoned the Sudanese ambassador to raise concerns about the developments.

What did the African Union say?

"The AU Peace and Security Council has with immediate effect suspended the participation of the Republic of Sudan in all AU activities until the effective establishment of a Civilian-led Transitional Authority, as the only way to allow the Sudan to exit from the current crisis," the AU tweeted on Thursday.

The decision was made unanimously by members at an emergency meeting of the AU in Addis Ababa that lasted more than five hours.

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Media captionSudan's military attacks protesters

The chairman of the African Union commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, on Monday called for an "immediate and transparent" investigation into the killings.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was heading to Khartoum on Friday to try to mediate between the two sides, Reuters news agency reported, quoting diplomatic sources.

What's the latest?

The Sudanese authorities spoke for the first time on Thursday about the death toll, denying that it was as high as 100 and saying it was "at most" 46. Doctors linked to the opposition said the figure was as high as 108, and that 40 bodies were pulled from the River Nile in Khartoum on Tuesday.

The deputy head of the military council, Mohamed Hamdan "Hemeti" Dagolo, defended the violent suppression, claiming that the protesters had been infiltrated by rogue elements and drug dealers.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Security forces continue to patrol the streets of Khartoum, three days after Monday's violence

Meanwhile, residents in Khartoum told the BBC they were living in fear, with much of the city in lockdown in the wake of the killings.

Numerous reports said a paramilitary unit, the feared Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commanded by Lt Gen Dagalo, was roaming the city's nearly deserted streets on Monday, targeting civilians.

A number of women arrested by the RSF told the BBC that they were repeatedly beaten with sticks and threatened with execution. They said RSF troops told them to run for their lives, then opened fire. Other victims, they said, were forced to drink sewage water and urinated on.

Formerly known as the Janjaweed militia, the RSF gained notoriety for brutal atrocities in the Darfur conflict in western Sudan in 2003.

Doctors afraid to go to work

By Catherine Byaruhanga, BBC News, Khartoum

People are still coming to terms with the violence of the last few days. At the former sit-in area - there are torn and charred posters as well as burnt-out tents. The fear is that more of the dead could still be there.

Security forces seem to outnumber civilians on the streets of the capital. Reports continue to come in of their brutal crackdown.

At Ibrahim Maleek Teaching Hospital - the doctors and nurses have not come to work because they're afraid of being targeted. Instead, it is the medical students who are treating patients.

Thirty-three-year-old Mohanned Mirghani said he was shot at close range by the Rapid Support Forces. "They shot me from close range; the RSF were the distance that you are from me now," he said. "Two of my friends were also shot but I don't know what happened to them."

It is hard to get a proper sense of what happened. One big hindrance is the fact that the military rulers have cut off the internet.

What happened to talks?

Sudan has been controlled by a military council since pro-democracy protests ended President Bashir's 30-years of authoritarian rule.

Demonstrators had been occupying the square in front of the military headquarters, while their representatives had negotiated with the military council and agreed a three-year transition that would culminate in elections.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pro-democracy protesters want the military council to hand over power to civilians

But after security forces swept in and opened fire on unarmed protesters in the square on Monday, the head of the military council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, announced that the agreement was cancelled and an election would take place within nine months.

After an appeal from Saudi Arabia to resume talks, Gen Burhan reversed course and said the military council would "open our arms to negotiate with no restriction". But the offer was rejected by the opposition activists, who said the military council could not be trusted after the crackdown.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt backed Sudan's military rulers throughout the protests.

The vice-president of Sudan's ruling junta, Lt Gen Dagalo, is said to be close to Saudi Arabia, and has committed his troops to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen's civil war.

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