May 21, 2019

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir Charged in Connection With Protester Deaths

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir Charged in Connection With Protester Deaths

CAIRO — Sudan’s former president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been charged in connection with the deaths of protesters killed during demonstrations that led to his ouster last month, the nation’s public prosecutor said in a statement on Monday.

The prosecutor’s office accused Mr. al-Bashir and others of “inciting and criminal complicity” in the deaths of demonstrators, according to Sudan’s official news agency. The announcement came on a day of escalating clashes in the capital, Khartoum, between security forces and protesters demanding civilian rule.

The military council that has been running Sudan since Mr. al-Bashir’s ouster on April 11 said it has been holding the deposed president at Kober prison in Khartoum. Prosecutors previously said they intended to question Mr. al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years, about allegations of money laundering.

The news agency report said Mr. al-Bashir would be held accountable for the death of “the martyr Babikir,” a possible reference to Dr. Babiker Salama, a 27-year-old doctor from a middle-class family who was killed in protests in January, and whose death became a rallying point for activists.

In recent weeks, prosecutors have been seeking witnesses and gathering evidence in relation to the death of the young doctor, according to a relative who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. Dr. Babiker’s family had not decided whether to press charges against the security official who shot him or against the top government officials who they believe bear ultimate responsibility for his death.

As many as 90 people have been killed in the protests throughout Sudan since December, according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, which has been tabulating casualties.

Opposition leaders have called for Mr. al-Bashir to be sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he faces longstanding charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity over his role in the conflict in the Darfur region in the 2000s. Protesters from Darfur have been in the forefront of continuing protests outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.

But the ruling Military Transitional Council has decided against the extradition of Mr. al-Bashir and insisted that he should face justice in a Sudanese court.

Mr. al-Bashir’s fate, once the sole focus of pro-democracy protesters, has receded into the background in recent weeks as protest leaders have negotiated with the country’s military generals over whether the country should be run by civilian or military leaders.

After negotiations on Monday, spokesmen for the protesters and the generals told reporters that they had agreed on the structure of transitional bodies to run Sudan before elections, although their composition was yet to be decided.

But hours later those talks were plunged into doubt when security officials fired tear gas at protesters in the streets outside Sudan’s military headquarters, in an apparent attempt to disperse them.

Photos and live video footage posted to the internet showed hundreds of young men gathered in the street, facing off against soldiers.

It appeared to be the most concerted attempt yet by Sudan’s military to break up the popular protest movement that was instrumental in the removal of Mr. al-Bashir last month, but which has become the source of rising tensions in recent weeks.

The army sided with the protesters in the dying days of Mr. al-Bashir’s rule in April, with some soldiers even opening fire to protect demonstrators from attack by armed pro-Bashir militiamen.

But since then the two sides have been at odds over who should control the transitional bodies in the run-up to elections, which the military says could take place within two years. To press their case, thousands of protesters have camped out at the gates of the military headquarters, demanding an immediate transition to full civilian rule.

The interim leader, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has repeatedly called on protesters to abandon checkpoints near the protest zone where volunteers check for weapons. But General al-Burhan insisted his soldiers would never resort to force to clear them.

A different force, however, appeared to be driving the events on Monday night. According to initial reports on social media, those clashing with protesters belonged to the Rapid Security Forces, a paramilitary group with a notorious reputation.

Set up in 2013, the Rapid Support Force was drawn from the same ethnic base as the janjaweed militia that carried out a fearsome campaign of killing and destruction in Darfur during the 2000s. The group’s leader, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, known as Hemeti, is the deputy leader of the ruling military council.

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