Sudan forces block protest press conference ahead of 'million man march'
Members of Sudan's powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces prevented protest leaders from addressing journalists on Saturday, the eve of a mass rally against the ruling generals, protest organisers said.
Sudan's umbrella protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change, has called for a "million man" march Sunday in Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman against the ruling generals, who have resisted calls to cede power to civilians.
The movement's key group, the Sudanese Professionals Association, had called for a media briefing on Saturday evening to unveil plans for the rally but it was blocked by members of the RSF, protest leader Ahmed al-Rabie said.
"Before we could start the press conference, three vehicles from RSF, full of armed men, came to our building and told us not to hold the press conference," Rabie said.
They "also ordered all the people there to leave the building," he added.
A Sudanese journalist at the site confirmed that armed men had prevented him and other journalists from attending the briefing in Khartoum's eastern district of Burri, a hotbed of protests.
Rabie said two leaders from the movement had been arrested on Friday.
Tensions remain high between the two sides despite Ethiopian and the African Union efforts to mediate a solution to the crisis.
Sudan's ruling military junta on Saturday warned that the country's protest leaders would be held responsible for "any victims" at the planned mass protest.
The statement has prompted severe concern among Sudanese activists who fear that the military plans to violently disperse the "million-man" march and is taking preemptive action by pinning the blame on the opposition umbrella group representing the protesters.
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Sunday's march comes on the thirtieth anniversary of ousted President Omar al-Bashir's rise to power in a military coup.
Bashir was toppled by the military on 11 April after months of widespread popular protests.
But since ousting Bashir and promising a peaceful transition to civilian rule, the military junta has proved reluctant to relinquish power.
Negotiations between protest leaders and the military came to a crashing halt on 3 June when the country's armed forces brutally dispersed a months-long sit-in outside the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum, killing more than a hundred people.
"The AFC is fully responsible for any victims or damage inflicted on institutions tomorrow," the military warned on Saturday according to Akhbar.
For many Sudanese, the statement signals a bloody crackdown on Sunday's march.
Deputy leader Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo, more widely known by his nickname Himedti, repeated those warnings earlier on Saturday.
Himedti is deputy leader of the country's military council and commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), an officialised paramilitary offshoot of the Janjaweed militias accused of widespread war crimes in the Darfur conflict.
Eyewitnesses say RSF troops were the main perpetrators of the crackdown that began on 3 June. They allegedly shot, beat and raped protesters and doctors. They are also alleged to have participated in looting and vandalism.
"There are vandals, there are people who have an agenda, a hidden agenda, we don't want problems," Himedti told a rally in comments broadcast by state television.
The deputy leader justified the heavy presence of his security forces in the capital since the beginning of the month.
"The military forces who are deployed in Khartoum are there for the security of the people, not to disturb them," he said.
Sunday's mass protest will be the first attempt to mobilise thousands of demonstrators since the brutal 3 June crackdown.
With the country submerged in an internet blackout since then, protesters have attempted to increase their numbers through word of mouth.
Sudan's generals seized power after the army ousted longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir on April 11 following months-long protests against his rule spearheaded by the Alliance for Freedom and Change.
But they have since resisted calls to hand power to civilians.
About 130 people have been killed since the June 3 crackdown, according to the Central Committee for Sudanese Doctors (CCSD).
Officials say 61 people died nationwide on June 3.
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