'Flights grounded' in Khartoum after Sudan sit-in massacre

'Flights grounded' in Khartoum after Sudan sit-in massacre
4 min read
03 June, 2019
Flights from Khartoum International Airport have been grounded following the violent dispersal of a sit-in, with protesters pointing to the involvement of aviation workers in a new 'civil disobedience' campaign.
Internet access was also reportedly cut for a short period [AFP]
Flights from Khartoum International Airport have been grounded following the violent dispersal of a sit-in in the Sudanese capital on Monday.

The "airport closure" followed a statement by the Sudanese Aviations Professionals Alliance (SAPA), saying that its members would participate in a campaign of "civil disobedience" called for by Sudan's leading protest organisers.

Eyewitnesses said large numbers of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led a dawn attack on the sit-in outside the military's headquarters where thousands of pro-democracy protesters have been gathered for 58 days.

At least 13 people were confirmed dead by the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) by 2 PM local time, although activist Nazim Sirag put the number at 26, including seven people killed during demonstrations in the capital's sister city Omdurman.

Among those shot dead by the RSF - an officialised offshoot the Janjaweed militias accused of war crimes in the Darfur conflict led by deputy leader Mohammad Hamdan Daglo - was an eight-year-old boy, the CCSD said.

Opposition umbrella group the Alliance for Freedom and Change (AFC) added that its members were unable to access the sit-in area to remove an uncounted number of dead bodies.

Calling for the "overthrow of the military junta", leading protest organisers the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) called on protesters to participate in a nationwide "civil disobedience" campaign.

The SPA - which was until last week a participant in negotiations with the governing transitional military council - said citizens should blockade streets, participate in peaceful protest marches, and create sit-ins on "every patch of land in our country", in addition to the complete "paralysis of public life" through a general strike.

'Flights grounded'

SAPA was among the first union to heed that call, saying in a statement on Monday morning that it would participate in the campaign "without any exception to any flights or services related to the aviation sector".

All flights had been grounded and other airport operations halted by Monday afternoon, Sky News Arabia reported.

The UAE-based outlet's local sources reported that the airport had been rendered unoperational by the "inability of staff to reach their workplace" after roads had been blocked by demonstrators following the SPA's call for civil disobedience.

Sudanese activists on social media, however, pointed to SAPA's announcement of its involvement in the "civil disobedience" campaign, although others speculated that the closure may have been ordered by the military.

RSF troops stationed on a Khartoum road [AFP]

Sudan's ruling military council, which seized power from former President Omar al-Bashir in April, is backed by Gulf allies the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf nations have collectively gifted Sudan $3 billion in aid since the coup, and Emirati and Saudi media has provided an uncritical platform for the military junta.

Council spokesman Shams al-Deen al-Kabbashi told Sky News Arabia on Monday morning that Sudanese forces had not attempted to disperse the sit-in area.

Instead, he claimed, security forces were forced to move in on the area as a "large security threat to citizens" had manifested in a neighbourhood within the sit-in area.

The neighbourhood, popularly known as "Colombia", is said to be a hotbed of drug and alcohol abuse.

The claims have been thoroughly denied by opposition activists.

In recent days Sudan's military rulers have repeatedly targeted the "Colombia" area. Activists say the military has used the area's poor reputation as a pretext to attack the sit-in as a whole.

'Internet cut'

The IT and Telecoms Professionals Association said in a statement on Monday that the sector had been instructed to cut access to the internet.

However, the association said, it was the norm for access to social media to be blocked in place of a total block on internet access.

Independent reporter Jason Patinkin said on Twitter that mobile internet access appeared to have been cut by service providers MTN and Zain, although activists later reported that mobile internet service had been restored after a short period.

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