Medics: Sudan Security Forces Kill 7 Protesters in Anti-coup Rallies

Sudanese forces killed seven anti-coup protesters Monday in one of the deadliest days of recent rallies against a military takeover, medics said, as security chiefs vowed to hold to account those they accused of causing “chaos.”

The latest violence comes ahead of a visit by U.S. diplomats, as Washington seeks to broker an end to the monthslong crisis in the northeast African nation.

The deaths Monday bring to 71 the number of protesters killed since the army’s October 25 takeover led by General Abdel-Fattah Burhan.

The military power grab triggered international condemnation and derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule following the April 2019 ouster of longtime autocratic president Omar al-Bashir.

On Monday, three protesters “were killed by live bullets” by “militias of the putschist military council,” anti-coup medics said on the Facebook page of Khartoum state’s health ministry.

Later, four more demonstrators were killed “during the massacre by the coup authorities who were seeking to disperse the protests,” according to the independent Central Committee of Sudan Doctors. 

Medics also counted multiple wounds by “live rounds.”

Government responds

Burhan on Monday held an emergency meeting with security chiefs and agreed to form a counterterrorism force “to confront possible threats,” according to a statement by Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council.

The statement said the officials blamed the “chaos” on protesters who “deviated from legitimate peaceful demonstration” and vowed to hold to account those involved in “violations” during protests. 

Authorities have repeatedly denied using live ammunition in confronting demonstrators and insist scores of security personnel have been wounded during protests.

On Thursday, Sudanese authorities said protesters stabbed to death a police general, the first fatality among security forces.

Protesters — sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands — have regularly taken to the streets despite the security clampdown and periodic cuts to communications since the coup.

On Monday, security officers in Khartoum deployed in large numbers, firing volleys of tear gas at protesters heading toward the presidential palace, an AFP correspondent said.

Several people appeared to have difficulty breathing, and others bled from wounds caused by tear gas canisters, the correspondent said.

Sawsan Salah, from the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, said protesters burned car tires and carried photos of people killed during other demonstrations since the coup.

In Wad Madani, “around 2,000 people took to the streets as they called for civilian rule,” said Emad Mohammed, a witness there.

In North Khartoum, thousands of protesters demanded that troops return to their barracks and chanted in favor of civilian rule, witnesses said.

U.S. officials to visit

U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee are expected in Sudan in coming days.

Washington’s push comes after the United Nations said last week it would launch talks involving political, military and social actors to help resolve the crisis.

On Monday, the U.S. diplomats were expected to meet in Saudi Arabia with the Friends of Sudan, a group calling for the restoration of the country’s transitional government.

The meeting aims to “marshal international support” for the U.N. mission to “facilitate a renewed civilian-led transition to democracy” in Sudan, the U.S. State Department said.

The diplomats then travel to Khartoum for meetings with pro-democracy activists, civic groups, and military and political leaders.

“Their message will be clear: the United States is committed to freedom, peace, and justice for the Sudanese people,” the State Department said.

The mainstream civilian faction of the Forces of Freedom and Change, the leading civilian pro-democracy group, has said it will accept the U.N. offer for talks if it revives the transition to civilian rule.

Proposed talks have been welcomed by the ruling Sovereign Council, which Burhan restaffed following the coup with himself as chairman.

Burhan has insisted that the military takeover “was not a coup” but only meant to “rectify” the course of the transition after al-Bashir’s deposal.

Earlier this month, Sudan’s civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok resigned, saying the country was now at a “dangerous crossroads threatening its very survival.” 

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While Attacks Persist, Nigerian Authorities Say They’re Responding 

Nigerian authorities say the military is responding to a series of killings and kidnappings by gunmen in the country’s northwest. In the latest attack, gunmen on motorcycles Saturday raided a village in Kebbi State, killing at least 50 people, according to locals.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s senior aide Garba Shehu said on Twitter Sunday that the president has ordered the military to “respond robustly to the cases of killings and kidnappings.”

He added, “The federal government is willing to strengthen support and cooperation with all the states,” and said the president believes that with the full cooperation of the citizens, Nigeria will surely overcome this problem.

It is not the first time the president has issued strong worded threats against armed gangs in the country, known locally as bandits.

But gangs continue to raid communities, looting for supplies and killing and kidnapping for ransom, mostly in the northwest and central regions. The latest incident occurred in Dankade village in Kebbi state over the weekend. More than 50 people were reportedly killed.

Last week, more than 200 people were killed in attacks that lasted three days in northwestern Zamfara state.

However, security analyst Kabiru Adamu says recent efforts by authorities are paying off.

“Since the president renewed his calls to the security forces, what we’ve seen is military airstrikes in forests where these bandits are holding their victims. We’ve also seen an increase in police operations. All of that has affected the ability of these bandits to operate,” he said.

Late last year, Nigeria officially classified armed gangs as terrorists, putting them in the same category with Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa province (ISWAP).

Experts say the designation was a major step in taking deterrent measures against the groups.

“The attacks do not diminish that fact that yes there’s progress,” said Senator Iroegbu, a security analyst. “The terrorists’ capacities have been greatly diminished, so there’s definitely progress from what it used to be.”

Nigeria’s armed forces said last week they killed 537 armed bandits and other criminal elements” in the region and arrested 374 others since May of last year.It said 452 kidnapped civilians have been rescued.

Still, the armed forces are struggling to maintain basic security.

More than 10,000 people were killed in Nigeria in banditry and terror related attacks last year, according to the U.S.-based Council for Foreign Relations.

This month, Nigeria received clearance to deploy fighter jets purchased from the United States after months of delay due to human rights concerns.

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Cameroon Says Separatists Abducted Rubber Plantation Workers

Authorities in Cameroon are blaming anglophone separatists for the abduction of eight rubber plantation workers Friday in the country’s volatile Southwest region. The country’s Agricultural Workers Trade Union is pleading for the workers’ safe release.

A man speaks in pidgin English as he presents eight men and women as enemies of separatist groups fighting to carve out an independent, English-speaking state in western Cameroon. 

In the audio, extracted from a video widely circulated on social media, the man says fighters abducted the civilians for collaborating with Cameroonian government troops. 

The video also appears to show the men and women holding rifles. The speaker in the video says separatists expect the civilians to use the rifles to fight the government.

The civilians are also forced to sing a song the speaker in the video calls the national anthem of Ambazonia. Ambazonia is the name of the state separatists say they are fighting to create. 

Cameroon’s military says people seen in the video are rubber plantation workers abducted Friday from the town of Tiko.

Bernard Okalia Bilai, governor of the Southwest region where Tiko is located, says the eight abductees are employees of the Cameroon Development Corporation. 

Gabriel Nbene Vefonge, president of Cameroon Agriculture and Allied Workers Trade Union, called for the workers’ release.

“We are appealing to who so ever group of persons that is keeping these workers, to kindly release them. Workers have nothing to do with the armed conflict. They should leave workers alone,” he said.

Speaking over a messaging app from Tiko, Vefonge said a breastfeeding mother is among the abducted workers. 

Adamu Chinda, who works at the Tiko rubber plantation, says workers took the woman’s three-month-old daughter to the Tiko hospital Monday. 

“I am going there now to see how we can raise money and buy the essential things that she [the baby] needs. Let them even release that breastfeeding mother so that she can take care of the child rather than the child dying because of lack of care,” he said. 

 

This is not the first time Cameroon Development Corporation workers have been attacked. In 2020 officials of the agro-industrial complex said that more than 6,000 of its 20,000 workers had fled attacks, killings and kidnappings. 

Cameroon’s separatist conflict began in 2016, after teachers and lawyers in the North- and Southwest regions, where English is the predominant language, protested alleged discrimination from the country’s French-speaking majority.

The conflict has killed an estimated 4,000 people and displaced more than three quarters of a million. 

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South African University Students Fight COVID Vaccine Mandates

South African university students are fighting mandates that require they be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to the classroom on February 14. Even students who are vaccinated, and want others to get inoculated, are against the policy and the students’ union is threatening protests across the country. Linda Givetash reports from Johannesburg. Camera – Zaheer Cassim. Video editors – Zaheer Cassim and Marcus Harton.

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UN Grants $150 Million in Aid for 13 Underfunded Crises 

The United Nations is allocating $150 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund to support seriously underfunded humanitarian operations in 13 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East.

Topping the list of underfunded crises are Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan. These countries will receive between $20- and $25 million each to help them implement life-saving humanitarian operations. 

International support for Syria has all but dissipated after more than a decade of conflict. Some 13 million refugees and internally displaced Syrians are living in a state of destitution, with little recourse to basic relief. 

The DRC is one of the longest and most complex humanitarian crises. Millions of people are suffering from conflict, displacement, epidemics, and acute hunger. 

The United Nations warns the humanitarian crisis in Sudan is deepening, as political instability grows and the country contends with flooding, rising food prices and disease outbreaks. 

Jens Laerke, the spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says the distribution of funds made by Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths is the largest ever. He says it beats last year’s $135 million by $15 million. 

“This announcement of funding will help the prioritization of life-saving projects to respond to for example food security, nutrition, health, and protection needs. More detailed strategies are expected from these countries later this month,” he said.

Other recipient countries include Myanmar, where the U.N. is providing aid to some three million people suffering from conflict, COVID-19, and a failing economy. U.N. aid also will go to Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger, three countries in Africa’s central Sahel that are struggling with mass displacement because of armed attacks. 

Laerke says these countries as well as six others in dire straits in Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, including Haiti and Honduras, will receive between $5- and $12 million each from the U.N. fund to help them tackle their emergency needs. 

“These allocations happen twice a year to countries selected because of their low level of funding, severity of humanitarian needs, and vulnerability,” he said. “These countries have just entered a new cycle of humanitarian fundraising and program implementation on the back of underfunded appeals from last year, all below 50 percent covered at year’s end.”

Humanitarian needs are growing across the world. The United Nations says it expects at least 274 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2022 and it will require $41 billion to assist the most vulnerable. 

Afghanistan is the world’s largest humanitarian appeal. The U.N. recently launched a record $4.5 billion appeal to assist 22 million Afghans, more than half the country’s population. 

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Cameroon Begins Mass COVID-19 Tests to Encourage Football Turnout 

Cameroon launched a massive campaign Sunday for fans to be tested and vaccinated against COVID-19 to fill stadiums in the ongoing Africa Football Cup of Nations the country is hosting. Cameroon and African football officials say only 2,000 supporters turn out for matches at 20,000- to 60,000-seat stadiums because of COVID-19 restrictions and separatist threats.

This is the deafening noise of vuvuzelas from thousands of football fans outside Yaoundé’s 42,000-seat Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium. The vuvuzela is a long horn blown by fans to support their teams at matches.

Among the fans is Sylvie Dinyuy, a 21-year-old university student. Dinyuy says COVID-19 restrictions imposed by organizers of the Africa Football Cup of Nations make it impossible for her and her peers to get into the stadium to support African Football. 

“I have been blocked because I have not done my COVID-19 test and I have not been vaccinated. I would have loved to watch the Morocco Comoros match at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium. Morocco is my favorite team,” she said.

Dinyuy and football fans outside the stadium say but for COVID-19, thousands of people would have been present in stadiums to support African men’s soccer as they did when Cameroon hosted women’s AFCON in 2016.

In 2016, the Confederation of African Football congratulated Cameroon for the massive turnout of fans when the central African state hosted the women’s AFCON. 

This year, the confederation said only fans who show proof that they have received COVID-19 vaccines and proof of negative COVID-19 test results no more than 24 hours old will be allowed into stadiums.

Cameroon says spectator turnout at stadiums since AFCON began on

January 9 in Cameroon is very sparse. The government says a maximum of 3,000 fans and supporters turned out in the 20,000-seat stadiums in Limbe and Bafoussam. More than 10,000 supporters turned out at the 32.000-seat stadium in Garoua, a northern commercial city. Fewer than 15,000 watched matches at the 60,000-seat Japoma stadium in Douala, Cameroon’s commercial hub. 

Cameroonian football officials say strict COVID-19 measures make it impossible for fans to have access to the stadiums.

Bafoussam hosts pool B AFCON matches. Augustine Awah Fonka is governor of Cameroon’s West region, where Bafoussam is located. Awa said on Sunday he launched a campaign for people to get COVID-19 tests and vaccines so they could have access to the stadium. 

“During the first match, they did not know certain entry conditions,” he said. “This time around, everybody is sensitized, and everybody is mobilized and prepared to watch these great encounters. Tickets are already available at the various sales points, so the populations are invited to go there and obtain their tickets.” 

Awah said, as an incentive, the government is providing free transportation to stadiums for people who are vaccinated and show proof of negative COVID-19 test results. He said Cameroonian Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute on Saturday asked workers and students who meet conditions to leave their offices and schools by 2 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. to attend matches. He says the permission given by Ngute for workers and students to leave their offices early ends on February 6, when AFCON is expected to end. 

 

Before the tournament began on January 9, Cameroon said thousands of fans were rushing to get their vaccines but that vaccine hesitancy in the country is still quite high.

The Public Health Ministry says 4,000 people all over Cameroon have received the vaccine since AFCON started, and that number is too low to bring out a massive fan turnout. 

The ministry says fewer than 5% of its targeted 16 million people have been vaccinated. Cameroon has about 26 million people.

In addition, separatists have vowed to disrupt the games in Buea and Limbe, both English-speaking towns hosting football fans, players and match officials for group matches for teams from Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, and Tunisia. 

Last Week, Cameroon reported that only about 300 supporters and fans turned out at the 20,000-seat Limbe stadium during matches. Limbe is hosting football fans, players and match officials for group matches for teams from Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, and Tunisia.

The military said separatists increased attempts to infiltrate Limbe and disrupt the games. It says separatists frustrated over their inability to disrupt AFCON matches in Limbe have attacked civilians in neighboring towns, including Buea. 

However, the government says troops will protect all civilians threatened by separatists over attending matches. 

The government says civilians should turn out en masse for COVID-19 tests and vaccinations so they can watch matches and that civilians in English-speaking towns should help the military by reporting intruders who want to see stadiums empty. 

 

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Ethiopia on Edge of Humanitarian Disaster, UN Agency Says

The World Food Program warns Ethiopia is on the edge of a humanitarian disaster as escalating fighting in the north is preventing the delivery of needed food from reaching millions of people in battle-scarred Tigray province. 

The last time a food convoy was able to reach Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, was mid-December.  Millions of acutely hungry people in this war-torn province have been deprived of food since then.

In a blunt warning to the warring parties and international community, World Food Program spokesman Tomson Phiri says his agency’s humanitarian operation in northern Ethiopia is about to grind to a halt.  He says intense fighting in the region is blocking the passage of fuel and food.

“Stocks of nutritionally fortified food for the treatment of malnourished children and women are now exhausted, and the last of WFP’s cereals, pulses and oil will be distributed next week,” said Phiri. “Because of fighting, food distributions are at an all-time low.  WFP aid workers on the ground tell me that warehouses are completely empty.”  

 

Fighting erupted between Ethiopian government troops and Tigrayan forces in November 2020.  Conditions have seriously deteriorated since then.  The World Food Program says 9.4 million people in northern Ethiopia now require humanitarian food aid, an increase of 2.7 million from just four months ago. 

In Tigray alone, the United Nations says 5.2 million people depend on international assistance to survive.  It says 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions and another 2 million are on the verge of famine.  

The WFP aims to provide food aid for 2.1 million people in Tigray and for an additional 1.1 million people in the Amhara and Afar regions.  However, money is in short supply.  The U.N. food agency is urgently appealing for $337 million to carry out its emergency food assistance program in Northern Ethiopia over the next six months.

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Mali Gives Airlines 72 Hours to Confirm Service

After several airlines discontinued service to Mali due to new regional sanctions, the country’s government has responded with its own economic threat.

Mali’s military government Friday gave airlines 72 hours, starting Jan. 15, to confirm their service to Mali with the country’s National Civil Aviation Agency or lose their time slots.

In a statement, Transport Minister Madina Sissoko, said that if airlines did not respond by the 72-hour deadline, “their time slots will be allocated to other airlines.”

Regional airlines such as Air Cote d’Ivoire and Air Burkina, the national carriers of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, halted service to Mali after Economic Community of West African States sanctions were imposed following a special summit January 9 in Accra, Ghana. 

The bloc, known as ECOWAS, had threatened sanctions if Mali’s military government did not hold elections next month as previously agreed. Mali’s leaders last month announced a plan to hold the next presidential elections in 2026. 

The sanctions include border closures between Mali and ECOWAS countries and the blockage of transport of goods between the countries, except for such essentials as food and medicine. 

France’s national carrier, Air France, also halted flights to Mali this week, according to a Wednesday statement from the Malian Transport Ministry, after France backed the ECOWAS sanctions.  

 

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Europe Sees Hope for Eventual Deal in Mali 

A key European diplomat believes there is still a chance to defuse the growing political crisis in Mali that has seen the country’s interim military government clash repeatedly in recent days with both its neighbors and members of the international community.

Emanuela Del Re, the European Union’s special representative for the Sahel, criticized Mali’s current rulers for provoking countries in the region and Europe by postponing elections for five years and for bringing in Russian mercenaries to help with security.

But in an interview Friday with VOA, Del Re said she thinks the coup leaders will eventually have no choice but to relent.

“I think that despite, of course, the fact that the government is so firm in saying that they want this long transition because probably they want to stay in power for a long time, the pressure will be so strong that at one point they will have to come to a compromise,” she said.

Del Re praised sanctions targeting Mali adopted earlier this week by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the EU, describing them as coherent and consequential, and called on the international community to maintain the pressure on the interim government.

Brussels meeting

At the same time, though, she and other European officials are continuing to talk to Malian officials and expect Mali to take part in a meeting scheduled for later this month in Brussels.

“The European Union wants to be coherent with this approach of the sanctions … it wants to be firm in this sense,” Del Re told VOA. “At the same time, it wants to also keep the doors open for negotiation.”

“I am sure that there will negotiations. There will be a dialogue,” she added.

Thousands of supporters of Mali’s military government took to the streets Friday in the capital, Bamako, railing against the ECOWAS sanctions as unjust.

“These illegal and illegitimate measures have three objectives: to destabilize the institutions, to destabilize the Malian army and to destabilize Mali,” Prime Minister Choguel Maiga told the crowd.

“But what they must not forget is that Mali is a lock, Mali is a dam. If Mali blows, and God help us, it will not blow, but if that happens, no one will have peace in ECOWAS,” he added.

Many of the protesters praised the military government for standing up to France, while others waived Malian flags and some even waived Russian flags.

The presence of Russian flags is likely to increase concern in the West, with European countries and the United States repeatedly warning the military government against bringing in mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a paramilitary company with ties to the Kremlin.

“We have seen what they have done in the Central African Republic, the predatory behavior and the violations of human rights, so we have made clear that we are completely against their intervention in Mali,” a European official told reporters Friday, requesting anonymity to discuss the sensitive subject when asked about reports that several hundred mercenaries are now in Mali.

According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Mali’s military government has committed to paying Wagner $11 million per month – $132 million a year – for the services of 1,000 mercenaries, an amount equal to more than 20% of Mali’s yearly defense expenditures.

Mali’s government has denied reports it is using Russian mercenaries, but the move appears to be having an impact on other international forces sent to the country to help fight against terrorists linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida.

Sweden to withdraw

Sweden’s foreign minister said Friday that her country will withdraw from the Takuba Task Force, a European special forces mission to Mali, and that it may withdraw a couple hundred troops serving in Mali under the United Nations.

“We now know that there is Wagner Group,” Sweden’s Ann Linde told reporters in Brest, France, following a meeting of EU foreign ministers. “If they have a stronger and stronger impact, then it will be not possible to continue with those large number of troops from us.”

Other European officials cautioned that additional troops could be pulled if the situation worsens and warned there could be regional implications.

“It cannot be accepted for its part for the risk of having a domino effect,” Del Re told VOA. “The countries of the region, the countries of the G-5, for instance, they fear that this could be an example that might somehow give the idea of copying the situation to other countries.”

Despite these complications, Del Re and other European officials insist they have no intention of abandoning Mali or its neighbors in the Sahel.

“What we are worried about very much is the population of Mali, because they are already in such a condition,” Del Re told VOA. They don’t deserve this situation.”

Annie Risemberg contributed to this report from Bamako.

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