Sudan protests: Huge rally marks one year since uprisings began

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Hundreds of troops were deployed on Thursday in Khartoum ahead of a rally to commemorate the first anniversary of the start of the popular uprising that toppled former dictator Omar Al Bashir, which is expected to attract tens of thousands.

The troops sealed off roads leading to the headquarters of the armed forces and the Nile-side presidential palace, creating massive traffic jams, some backed with pickup trucks fitted with heavy machineguns.

Political violence has been rare in Sudan's capital since a power-sharing agreement was reached in August between the generals who removed Mr Al Bashir from power and the protest movement that organised months of street protests against the former president.

“We are better off without Al Bashir,” said Khartoum taxi driver Saad Malek, 60. “But life is the same in many ways. We are pious people and totally resigned to God’s will and what he will bring us.”

Thursday’s demonstrations will also serve as a remembrance for the scores of protesters killed by Mr Al Bashir’s security forces, as well as the estimated 130 people killed on June 3, when authorities violently broke up a two-month-old protest sit-in outside the military headquarters.

The events of June 3, by far the bloodiest day of the uprising, are being investigated by a panel led by prominent and seasoned lawyer Nabil Adib. The findings are expected next month.

The anniversary is a reminder of the extent to which Sudan has changed since the president's removal in April, which had suffered one severe crisis after another under his three-decade-long rule. Under his watch, Sudan’s mostly animist and Christian south seceded in 2011 after Africa’s longest civil war ended, taking with it most of the country’s oil wealth.

But even with Sudan morphing from a brutal dictatorship to a country where freedoms are guaranteed, questions linger about whether the benefits of the uprising, initially triggered by a steep rise in the price of bread, have met the expectations of the country’s mostly impoverished.

A transitional government led by career economist Abdalla Hamdok has been in office since September, grappling with Sudan’s seemingly countless problems under the watchful eye of the leaders of the protest movement, who have informally assumed the role of “guardians of the revolution”.

“Removing Al Bashir was a great victory, but how can we safeguard the change is the question,” said Sulaima Sharif, an academic and a prominent activist. “It’s too early to judge the government’s performance, but it needs to listen more and interact more with the people. It has no real visibility with the people.”

Mr Hamdok has repeatedly sought to lower popular expectations. He has in the last three months travelled to western Europe, Africa, the United States and the Gulf region, home to the country’s traditional backers, to seek political and financial support for the country’s nascent democracy.

Sudanese bakers prepare bread at a bakery in the town of Atbara, an industrial town 350 kilometres northeast of Sudan’s capital Khartoum. In December 2018, authorities raised the official price of a 70-gram loaf from one Sudanese pound to three, prompting a rush on bakeries and long queues for bread -- sparking the rallies that marked the beginning of the end for Bashir. A year since bread prices tripled overnight, sparking protests in the Sudanese town of Atbara, residents say bakeries are producing more loaves than the town can eat. AFP

Sudanese people buy bread at a bakery in the town of Atbara, an industrial town 350 kilometres northeast of Sudan’s capital Khartoum. AFP

Sudanese people buy bread at a bakery in the town of Atbara, an industrial town 350 kilometres northeast of Sudan's capital Khartoum. AFP

Sudanese bakers prepare bread at a bakery in the town of Atbara, an industrial town 350 kilometres northeast of Sudan’s capital Khartoum. AFP

Sudanese people buy bread at a bakery in the town of Atbara, an industrial town 350 kilometres northeast of Sudan’s capital Khartoum. AFP

Sudanese bakers prepare bread at a bakery in the town of Atbara, an industrial town 350 kilometres northeast of Sudan’s capital Khartoum. AFP

Sudanese bakers prepare bread at a bakery in the town of Atbara, an industrial town 350 kilometres northeast of Sudan’s capital Khartoum. AFP

Sudanese people buy bread at a bakery in the town of Atbara, an industrial town 350 kilometres northeast of Sudan's capital Khartoum. AFP

Sudanese people buy bread at a bakery in the town of Atbara, an industrial town 350 kilometres northeast of Sudan’s capital Khartoum. AFP

Updated: December 19, 2019 12:11 PM

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