190606 Sudan
A Sudanese protester holds a national flag as he stands on a barricade along a street, demanding that the country's Transitional Military Council hand over power to civilians, in Khartoum, Sudan June 5, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

Khartoum - Sudan’s ruling military blamed the country’s protest movement for an escalation as the second day of the opposition’s general strike kicked in on Monday in the protesters latest bid to pressure the army to hand over power to civilian rule.

For the second day, shops and businesses were closed in the capital, Khartoum, though there was visibly more traffic in the streets than on Sunday, when the strike began.

But the military’s latest harsh words - describing actions by the protest movement as a major liability to Sudan and its security - reflected that the ruling generals are hardening their stance.

It has been two months since the military ousted Sudan’s longtime autocrat, Omar Al Bashir, on April 11, following months of protests against his rule. The generals put Al Bashir behind bars and took over the country, promising free elections following a transitional period.

The protesters, however, remained in the streets demanding the generals relinquish power right away. The standoff lasted until troops moved in last Monday and violently broke up opposition sit-ins, including the main encampment outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.

Over 100 people have been killed in the violence since then, including more than 40 victims whose bodies were later pulled out of the Nile River in Khartoum. The military-backed Health Ministry disputes the death toll, saying the official total tally of those killed in the violence stands at 61, including three members of the security forces.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella of unions which has been spearheading the protests against Al Bashir since last December, urged the Sudanese to continue the general strike, part of a civil disobedience campaign to press the military.

The union association posted videos and photos on social media it said were of deserted streets and closed shops and businesses in Khartoum’s neighbourhood of Gabra and the eastern city of Wad Madani.

According to the protest leaders, the participation in the strike on in the first day exceeded their hopes. They vowed Monday to continue their “peaceful resistance” until the military council is toppled.

The SPA urged people to close up roads again, rebuild dismantled barricades across the country, and avoid clashes with the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. Security forces on Sunday removed barricades from main roads and reopened the sit-in area outside the military’s headquarters.

“The solution is to get life paralysed,” the protest leaders said.

Lt. Gen. Jamal Al Deen Omar, from the ruling military council, said late Sunday that by closing roads and setting up barricades, the protesters committed a crime.

“The technique of closing the roads and building barricades ... is a full-fledged crime as it deprives people from being able to go about their normal life,” he said.

Omar said the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, which represented the protesters in negotiations with the military council that went on for weeks till the generals suspended the talks earlier this month, are to blame for “all the regrettable events” of the past days.

The protest leaders, by their actions, have “crossed the line of peaceful practices ... and have become a major liability for the country and the people’s security,” he said.

Omar also said the military and the Rapid Support Forces have beefed up their presence across the country “to restore life back to normal.”

Rebels released

Meanwhile, Sudanese authorities on Monday released three prominent rebels who were detained after last week's crackdown, state TV said.

Yasir Arman, deputy chief of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), was released along with two other leading rebels from the group, Ismail Jalab and Mubarak Ardol, it said, but did not specify when.

Arman arrived in Khartoum on May 26 to take part in talks with Sudan's ruling generals who took power after the ouster of president Omar al-Bashir in April following months of mass protests against his authoritarian rule.

He was seized on June 5, two days after men in military fatigues raided a weeks-long protest sit-in outside the army headquarters in the capital.

Jalab and Ardol were detained from their residences after meeting with visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Khartoum on Friday for talks aimed at reviving negotiations between the generals and protest leaders.

The SPLM-N's armed wing had battled Al Bashir's forces in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states since 2011.

The rebel group is part of the Alliance for Freedom and Change umbrella protest movement that led a nationwide campaign against Al Bashir's iron-fisted rule.

Arman's release was one of several conditions set by the Alliance before any fresh negotiations with the generals could begin.

Since Al Bashir's ouster, thousands of protesters had camped outside the army complex demanding the new ruling military council hand the reins to a civilian-led administration.

On June 3, a brazen raid on the sit-in left more than hundred men and women dead, according to doctors close to the Alliance, including 40 whose bodies were pulled from the Nile river.

The health ministry says 61 people died nationwide in the crackdown, 49 of them from "live ammunition" in Khartoum.