Sudan Protesters End General Strike, Pledge to Return to Talks With Army

Move is seen as possible breakthrough in the country's worsening political crisis

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Sudanese civilians stand in a queue to a bakery in Khartoum, Sudan June 11, 2019.
Sudanese civilians stand in a queue to a bakery in Khartoum, Sudan June 11, 2019. Credit: \ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/ REU

Life began to return to normal on Wednesday in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, after the protest organizers called off their general strike and civil disobedience campaign.

The move is seen as a possible breakthrough in the worsening political crisis, two months after a protest movement forced the army to topple strongman Omar al-Bashir — and then stayed in the streets demanding the generals who replaced him hand power over to a civilian leadership.

The Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, which represents the protesters in their talks with the ruling military council, called on people to return to work across Sudan, after the three-day general strike. Shops and businesses reopened and there was visible traffic in the capital's streets.

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Its decision reflected a growing desire for the protest leaders and the military to resume their negotiations and 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.

Smoke rises behind barricades laid by protesters to block a street in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to stop military vehicles from driving through the area on Wednesday, June 5, 2019.Credit: Mohammed Najib,AP

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.

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 break-up of the main protest sit-in in Khartoum on June 3.

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

Over 100 people were killed in Khartoum and elsewhere across Sudan, according to protest organizers, since camp's break-up.