Sudan’s Burhan says army ousted government to avoid civil war

By Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s armed forces chief defended the military’s seizure of power, saying he had ousted the government to avoid civil war, while protesters returned to the streets on Tuesday to demonstrate against the takeover after a day of deadly clashes.

The military takeover on Monday brought a halt to Sudan’s transition to democracy, two years after a popular uprising toppled long-ruling Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Speaking at his first news conference since he announced the takeover, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said the army had no choice but to sideline politicians who were inciting against the armed forces.

“The dangers we witnessed last week could have led the country into civil war,” he said, an apparent reference to demonstrations against the prospect of a coup.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was arrested on Monday along with other members of his cabinet, had not been harmed and had been brought to Burhan’s own home, the general said. “The prime minister was in his house. However, we were afraid that he’d be in danger so he has been placed with me in my home.”

Burhan had appeared on TV on Monday to announce the dissolution of the Sovereign Council, a body set up after Bashir’s overthrow to share power between the military and civilians and lead Sudan to free elections.

The Facebook page for the office of the prime minister, apparently still under the control of Hamdok loyalists, called for his release and that of the other civilian leaders.

Hamdok remains “the executive authority recognized by the Sudanese people and the world,” the post said. It added that there was no alternative other than protests, strikes and civil disobedience.

Sudanese ambassadors to 12 countries, including the United States, United Arab Emirates, China, and France, have rejected the military takeover, a diplomatic source said on Tuesday.

Ambassadors to Belgium and the European Union, Geneva and U.N. agencies, China, South Africa, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, Sweden and Canada also signed on to the statement, which said the envoys backed popular resistance to the coup.

Western countries have denounced the coup, called for the detained cabinet ministers to be freed and said they will cut off aid if the military does not restore power-sharing with civilians.

SHOPS SHUT, PROTESTS FLARE IN CAPITAL

Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman across the Nile river were partly locked down on Tuesday with shops shut and plumes of smoke rising from where protesters were burning tires. Calls for a general strike were played over mosque loudspeakers. Streets and bridges were blocked by soldiers or protester barricades.

Downtown and commercial areas of Khartoum were empty with shops, markets and offices all shut in the city center.

The only people in the streets apart from protesters were security forces heavily deployed around the presidential palace and ministry of defense.

Some roads were still blocked by barricades erected by protesters made from stones, tree branches and burning tires. There were small groups of protesters but no leadership to coordinate them. Phone networks were patchy.

A group of neighborhood resistance committees in Khartoum issued a statement later on Tuesday announcing a schedule of further barricades and escalating protests leading to what it said would be a “march of millions” on Saturday.

Images on social media showed renewed street protests on Tuesday in the cities of Atbara, Dongola, Elobeid and Port Sudan. People chanted: “Don’t give your back to the army, the army won’t protect you.”

The military appeared to have underestimated civilian opposition on the street, according to Jonas Horner of the International Crisis Group.

“They haven’t learned their lesson,” he said. “As we saw post the revolution and post-Bashir, the streets were determined and civilians were willing to die for this.”

A health ministry official said seven people had been killed in clashes between protesters and the security forces on Monday.

Burhan said the military’s action did not amount to a coup, as it had been trying to rectify the path of the political transition.

“We only wanted to correct the course to a transition. We had promised the people of Sudan and the entire world. We will protect this transition,” said Burhan. He said a new government would be formed that would not contain any typical politicians.

Sudan, for decades a pariah under Bashir, has depended on Western aid to pull through an economic crisis in the two years since he was overthrown.

Banks and cash machines were closed on Tuesday, and mobile phone apps widely used for money transfers could not be accessed.

“We are paying the price for this crisis,” said a man in his 50s looking for medicine at one of the pharmacies where stocks have been running low said angrily. “We can’t work, we can’t find bread, there are no services, no money.”

In the western city of El Geneina, resident Adam Haroun said there was complete civil disobedience, with schools, stores and gas stations shut.

(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla, Nafisa Eltahir and Nayera Abdallah; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich)

‘An epidemic’ of coups, U.N. chief laments, urging Security Council to act

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.N. chief Antonio Guterres assailed what he called “an epidemic of coup d’états” on Tuesday and urged the Security Council to act to effectively deter them as the 15-member body prepared to discuss the military takeover in Sudan.

“The Sudanese people has shown very clearly their intense desire for reform and democracy,” the secretary-general told reporters as he again condemned the Sudanese army’s seizure of power on Monday and urged all parties to exercise “maximum restraint.”

Sudan’s top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Tuesday defended the military takeover, saying he had ousted the government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to avoid civil war.

It is the latest in a series of military takeovers in Myanmar, Mali and Guinea and attempted coups in several other countries.

The Security Council – which has the ability to impose sanctions or authorize military action – has been split on how to approach various conflicts, with the United States and other western council members pitted against Russia and China. It was due to meet behind closed doors on Sudan on Tuesday.

Guterres pointed to strong geopolitical divides, Security Council “difficulties in taking strong measures” and the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as creating “an environment in which some military leaders feel that they have total impunity, they can do whatever they want because nothing will happen to them.”

“My appeal, obviously, is for – especially the big powers – to come together for the unity of the Security Council in order to make sure that there is effective deterrence in relation to this epidemic of coup d’états,” Guterres said. “We have seen that effective deterrence today is not in place.”

The council has issued statements expressing concern about the situation in Myanmar and condemning the military takeover in Mali. It is discussing a possible statement on Sudan, diplomats said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Howard Goller)

Sudan’s prime minister warns of risk of chaos, civil war

By Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s prime minister warned on Tuesday of the risk of chaos and civil war fomented by loyalists of the previous regime as he sought to defend reforms meant to pull the country out of a deep economic crisis and stabilize a political transition.

Abdalla Hamdok made the comments in a televised address days after young men carrying clubs and sticks blocked roads in the capital Khartoum following the removal of fuel subsidies.

Hamdok’s government serves under a fragile military-civilian power-sharing deal struck after a popular uprising spurred the army to overthrow veteran leader Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.

The transition is meant to last until the end of 2023, leading to elections.

“The deterioration of the security situation is mainly linked to fragmentation between components of the revolution, which left a vacuum exploited by its enemies and elements of the former regime,” Hamdok said.

He said that without reform of Sudan’s sprawling security sector, which expanded under Bashir as he fought multiple internal conflicts, Sudan will continue to face internal and external threats.

“These fragmentations can lead us to a situation of chaos and control by gangs and criminal groups, just as it can lead to the spread of conflict among all civilian groups and might lead to civil war.”

Though Sudan has won international praise for economic reforms since Bashir’s fall and has made progress towards debt relief, many Sudanese face food shortages or have struggled to make ends meet as prices have soared over the past year.

Inflation hit 379% in May and electricity or water outages occur daily.

While roadblocks have often been used in protests triggered by economic or political grievances since 2018, a Reuters witness saw more aggression around the barriers set up in recent days.

The state government said police and prosecutors would deal with what it called the gangs involved in blocking the roads, but there appeared to be little police presence on the streets.

(Additional reporting by Alaa Swilam; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Kushner launches group to promote Arab states’ new ties with Israel

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Jared Kushner is forming a group to promote relations between four Arab states and Israel, normalized under agreements he helped broker as a top adviser to his father-in-law former President Donald Trump, the group said on Wednesday.

Kushner is founding the “Abraham Accords Institute for Peace,” to work on deepening agreements Israel reached last year with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, is writing a book about his experience in helping broker the deals. He will be joined in the new group by former U.S. envoy Avi Berkowitz and ambassadors to the United States from Bahrain, the UAE and Israel.

Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban, a contributor to Democratic causes, was also listed as part of the effort in a statement by the group, which described itself as non-partisan. The founders “intend to add additional Democrats to the group as well as international advisers from the region”, it said.

The Arab countries’ agreements with Israel were opposed by the Palestinians, who say they violate pledges from Arabs not to make peace until Israel withdraws from occupied lands.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat who defeated the Republican Trump in an election in November, has said he aims to strengthen and expand the agreements, a position he repeated on Tuesday in a phone call with the UAE’s powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Graff)

Morocco hosts Israeli envoys, Kushner to hammer out new ties

By Ahmed Eljechtimi

RABAT (Reuters) – Israeli envoys arrived in Morocco on Tuesday to meet its king and hammer out an upgrade of ties that was forged by the White House in a foreign policy push by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, the Israeli delegation was accompanied by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of pan-Arab rapprochement with Israel.

They took El Al Israel Airlines in the first direct flight by a commercial plane from Tel Aviv to Rabat. Both countries anticipate a surge in tourism aboard such connections, mainly among the hundreds of thousands of Israelis of Moroccan descent.

Morocco followed the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in moving toward normal relations with Israel. Palestinians have censured the U.S.-brokered deals, seeing a betrayal of a long-standing demand that Israel first meet their statehood goals.

As the Trump administration has sought to isolate Iran, the deals have been sweetened with promises of business opportunities or economic aid. Israel’s new partners have also enjoyed bilateral benefits from Washington – in Rabat’s case, U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

“This type of agreement (with Israel) will help have a better interaction between communities and people,” Moroccan Tourism Minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui told I24 television.

During the visit, Ben-Shabbat and Kushner will see Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Israeli officials said. Moroccan and Israeli officials are also scheduled to sign accords on linking up aviation and financial systems, on visas and water management.

The delegates’ plane, painted with the Hebrew, Arabic and English words for “peace” and a Maghreb good-luck talisman, had a low-key reception at Rabat airport. Moroccan officials describe their deal with Israel as a restoration of mid-level ties that Rabat cooled in 2000 in solidarity with Palestinians.

Israel and Morocco now plan to reopen mutual “liaison offices.” Israel hopes these will be upgraded to embassies.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Mark Heinrich)

Kushner to lead U.S. delegation to Israel, Morocco

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House senior adviser Jared Kushner will lead a U.S. delegation to Israel and Morocco next week for discussions on the normalization deal the two Middle East countries reached last week, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

The U.S. delegation and an Israeli team will join together and take the first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat as a sign of progress after the Israel-Morocco deal that Kushner helped broker, the official told Reuters.

Kushner, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and Adam Boehler, chief executive officer of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, will leave for Israel on Monday.

While in Jerusalem, Kushner, who is U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official.

El Al is expected to be the airliner for the first direct flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat that the Kushner team and a delegation led by Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat will take, the official said.

The Israel-Morocco deal was the fourth that the United States helped broker, following similar agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Kushner and his team are still holding talks with other countries from the Arab and Muslim world.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Howard Goller)

Aid coming to north Ethiopia, refugees recount war suffering

ADDIS ABABA/HAMDAYET, Sudan (Reuters) – Relief agencies in Ethiopia prepared convoys on Thursday to truck aid into Tigray region, where a month of war is feared to have killed thousands of people and has forced refugees to flee along corpse-strewn roads.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory over the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after federal forces captured the northern region’s capital Mekelle at the weekend.

However, TPLF leaders have dug into surrounding mountains in an emerging guerrilla strategy. “The war is a people’s war and will not end easily,” its spokesman Gebre Gebretsadkan said on Tigray TV, adding that fighting had continued round Mekelle.

One aid worker in touch with Tigray said clashes had been taking place to the north, south and west of the city. The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Diplomats in touch with sources on all sides say thousands of combatants and civilians appear to have died since Abiy’s offensive began on Nov. 4, after a TPLF attack on a military base was the last straw in their feud.

More than 45,000 refugees have crossed into neighboring Sudan, while many more have been displaced within Tigray.

One refugee, who gave his name only as Abraham, saw corpses in civilian clothes as he fled the Tigrayan town of Humera towards the border with Sudan.

“Nobody can bury them, they were outside on the road,” he recounted from Hamdayet, a Sudanese border transit point.

WAR CHILD

Ethiopia’s government and the TPLF have both accused each other of – and both denied – targeting civilians.

The TPLF said it had destroyed government tanks and accused Eritrea of deploying troops to back Abiy. Eritrea’s government could not be reached for comment but has previously denied that.

Claims from all sides have been hard to verify while access to Tigray region was blocked and communications largely down, though internet and phone services were returning this week.

In Qadarif, also in Sudan, the mother of a newborn baby recounted how she had fled Tigray at eight months pregnant.

“While I was frightened and running away, that’s when the pain started,” said Atikilti Salem, breastfeeding her 22-day-old baby Abeyam.

“I found a small village and gave birth in the hospital … I wanted to call her Africa, but I instead named her after the doctor who delivered her … When the war is over … I’m going to tell her the story of how she was born.”

Ethiopian authorities and the United Nations agreed to move humanitarian aid into federal government-controlled areas of Tigray. Some 600,000 people relied on food handouts even before the fighting.

Food stocks are nearly empty for 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray, aid agencies say, while medics in Mekelle are short of painkillers, gloves and body bags.

“There’s an acute shortage of food, medicine and other relief,” tweeted Norwegian Refugee Council head Jan Egeland, saying relief convoys were ready to go.

Tigray’s new government-appointed leader Mulu Nega said help was on its way to areas of west Tigray including Humera.

REFORM SETBACK?

The first video from Mekelle since its capture on Saturday, from state-run ETV, showed people shopping and sitting on stools.

“Life is getting back to normal … Everything is, as you can see, very peaceful,” one man said in the footage which Reuters could not independently verify.

Tigrayans have strongly supported the TPLF and seen them as war heroes from the 1991 overthrow of a Marxist dictatorship.

Analysts fear that Abiy’s political reforms, after he took office in 2018, could be set back by the conflict, and his tougher line against foes including jailing opposition figures this year.

He became prime minister after nearly three decades of TPLF-led government that had become increasingly repressive.

Abiy, who comes from the larger Oromo and Amharic ethnic groups, reduced Tigrayans from government and security posts, saying they were over-represented for a group making up 6% of the population.

The TPLF accuses their ex-military comrade and government coalition partner of trying to increase his personal power over Ethiopia’s 10 regions. Abiy denies that, calling them criminals who mutinied against federal authority.

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, David Lewis and Nazanine Moshiri in Nairobi, Maggie Fick in Istanbul, Seham Eloraby and Baz Ratner in Ahmdayet, Sudan; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

In Sudan camp, a Tigray farmer once displaced by famine now shelters from war

By Seham Eloraby and Baz Ratner

UM RAKUBA CAMP, Sudan (Reuters) – Ethiopian farmer Berhan Halie came to Sudan 35 years ago to escape hunger.

Now 65 and walking with a stick, he is back again, this time to escape the bullets and bombs of the conflict in Tigray, fleeing from his village as neighbors lay dead on the ground.

Berhan and his family spent days walking to the border crossing with Sudan, among more than 45,000 who have fled from fighting between the Ethiopian government and rebellious Tigray forces.

After crossing two weeks ago, he was brought by bus to the Um Rakuba camp in Sudan’s Qadarif state — the same site he came to when fleeing the famine that had ravaged northern Ethiopia in 1985.

“The first time I came was because of famine but now it’s because of war, that’s why I feel really sad and I feel so much pain,” said Berhan, sitting in the shade against some foam matting as he rested an old leg injury.

He recounted how dead bodies were strewn behind him as he fled amid heavy fire. He had no chance to identify them, but is sure they were from his village, Rayan.

“I could not manage to look back because I was thinking about my family and how to escape and how to get out of the country,” he said.

“I wasn’t the only one walking. So many people were walking alongside me, and mothers carrying their children on their backs, and others the same age as me.”

Like other mainly Tigrayan refugees who have fled to Sudan, Berhan blamed the violence on government forces and allied militia. Reuters was unable to verify his claims.

The government denies it has killed civilians in the conflict. Both sides have accused the other of ethnic-based killings, while denying responsibility for carrying them out.

Thousands of people are believed to have been killed since fighting broke out in Tigray, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been trying to quell a rebellion by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Assertions from all sides are difficult to verify since phone and internet links to Tigray have been down and access tightly controlled since the conflict began on Nov. 4.

“This is inhumane, slaughtering people, stealing all their belongings, I feel the world has betrayed Tigray because people are doing nothing while people are being killed,” said Berhan.

Conditions at Um Rakuba are harsh. New arrivals have been sheltering under trees and tents made from sticks and plastic sheeting. Those not yet registered as refugees get two rations of sorghum porridge a day, which some complain is making them sick.

Some teenagers pass the time playing volleyball next to a row of white tents, while others queue for food or try to sleep.

The war in Tigray region has heightened frictions between Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups.

Ethiopian authorities said on Saturday that the military operation in Tigray was over, they controlled the regional capital Mekelle, and a hunt for the rebel leaders was under way.

For Berhan, speaking on Sunday, the Ethiopian government had already won.

“They made a plan on how to destroy Tigray and the plan is about to happen. The attack is about to be accomplished,” he said.

(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Aidan Lewis, William Maclean)

Qatar FM: Normalization with Israel undermines Palestinian statehood efforts

DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar’s foreign minister said on Monday Arab states that establish ties with Israel undermine efforts for Palestinian statehood, but it was in their own sovereign right to do so.

Three Arab countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan – set aside hostilities with Israel in recent months to agree to formal relations in deals brokered by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.

Palestinian leaders have accused them of betrayal, while U.S. and Israeli officials have said more Arab states could soon follow.

“I think it’s better to have a united (Arab) front to put the interests of the Palestinians (first) to end the (Israeli) occupation,” Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told the online Global Security Forum.

He said division was not in the interest of concerted Arab efforts to get the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians and resolve the decades-long conflict between the sides.

However, for the states who established ties, “it is up to them at the end of the day to decide what is best for their countries”, he said.

The UAE, Bahrain and Sudan broke with decades of Arab policy that had demanded Israel first cede land to the Palestinians to form their own state before establishing relations.

UAE officials have said the Gulf state remains committed to Palestinian statehood, and that its deal with Israel had stopped further annexation of lands Palestinians seek for a state.

Until this year, Israel had only current formal relations with just two Arab states – its neighbors Egypt and Jordan – established under peace deals reached decades ago.

Qatar has been tipped by Israeli officials as among Arab and other Muslim-majority countries that could establish formal ties with Israel.

Sheikh Mohammed said Doha maintains some relations with Israel, though only on matters concerning the Palestinians such as humanitarian needs or development projects.

Qatar, which also has relations with two of Israel’s bitter enemies, Iran and Palestinian militant group Hamas, supports a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, a stance the foreign minister reiterated.

(Writing by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Sudan confirms ‘contacts’ with Israel, says UAE move is ‘brave’

An Israeli flag is seen near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount December 6, 2017.

By Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan on Tuesday confirmed having contacts with Israel, saying the United Arab Emirates’ decision to normalize relations with Israel is “a brave and bold step”, according to its foreign ministry spokesman.

Under the U.S.-brokered deal announced last week, the UAE becomes just the third Arab country to forge full relations with Israel in more than 70 years. The pact could reshape Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to the fight against Iran.

In February, Israeli officials said Israel and Sudan had agreed to move towards forging normal relations for the first time during a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s military-led, transitional sovereign council, in Uganda.

“The Emirates’ move is a brave and bold step and contributes to putting the Arab world on the right track to build peace in the region and to build sustainable peace,” Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Haydar Sadig told Reuters by phone on Tuesday, confirming remarks made earlier to regional media.

“I cannot deny that there are contacts between Sudan and Israel,” he added.

Netanyahu welcomed the remarks, saying on Twitter: “Israel, Sudan and the entire region will benefit from the peace agreement (with the UAE), and together can build a better future for all people in the region. We will do whatever is necessary to turn this vision into a reality.”

Back in February, Burhan confirmed the meeting with Netanyahu but cast doubt on any rapid normalization of ties, saying Sudan’s stance on the Palestinian issue remains unchanged, and that relations between the two countries was the responsibility of the civilian cabinet in Khartoum.

Scores of Sudanese protesters condemned Burhan’s meeting with Netanyahu in February. Under the long rule of Islamist strongman Omar al-Bashir until his fall in a popular uprising in 2019, Khartoum counted among hardline Muslim foes of Israel.

Sadig said any normalization of relations with Israel would not be at the expense of “Sudan’s moral values and independence” and be “according to Sudan’s interests”.

“We will not accept unequal relations with Israel.”

Israel says it expects other Gulf Arab countries and Muslim nations in Africa to follow in normalizing ties after its breakthrough with the UAE.

(Aditional reporting Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Mark Heinrich)