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Sudanese presidential aide suggests crackdown on protestors was “excessive”

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September 30, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - The Sudanese presidential assistant Abdel-Rahman al-Sadiq al-Mahdi issued a statement today in which he appeared to blame the government for the large number of deaths that occurred in last week’s protests.

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FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 file photo, Sudanese men pray over the body of Salah Sanhory, 26, who was killed on Friday Sept. 27, 2013 by security forces, during his funeral in Khartoum, Sudan (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in different parts of Sudan to protest Khartoum’s decision to lift fuel subsidies.

Activists say over a hundred people were killed by the Sudanese security since the start of the protests while authorities admitted to the death of only 33 including policemen. They also accused protestors of vandalizing and damaging gas stations and public transportation buses.

Sudanese officials accused outside elements, namely the Sudanese rebels of carrying out the killings and insisted that they did not use live ammunition.

But al-Mahdi suggested in his statement that the government is responsible for the human toll.

"We have watched with great pity the events which have taken place following the decisions of economic reforms and the concurrent removal of subsidies on fuel , and I would like to address the public opinion out of concern for the homeland and my belief in the sanctity of the blood of the Sudanese," the statement reads in part.

"We tried as much as possible to have the decision on this important issue through consultation and enlightening the political spectrum and by consensus and compromise but the step of consultation did not produce the desired understanding," al-Mahdi wrote.

The presidential assistant stressed that peaceful protests against the decision is legal but not "sabotage and arson".

However he acknowledged that the authorities may have committed some mistakes in handling the protests.

"The response to the demonstrations that occurred had excessive violence by some insubordinates in which peaceful protestors fell victims that our duty was to protect them. I while condemning it, pray for the souls of the martyrs , and we promise that we will seek to achieve accountability deserved on the matter and bring justice for the victims and their families" al-Mahdi said in his statement.

"I also believe that these unfortunate events clearly confirms that the polarization present in our country and the differences in views and positions are always occasions for accusations and mutual mistrust but also for the dialogue of violence and counter-violence".

Al-Mahdi’s departure from the official position echoes that which was expressed in a memo by more than 30 officials from the National Congress Party (NCP) who urged president Omer Hassan al-Bashir to prosecute those behind the killings and asserted that the demonstrators were not allowed to "peacefully express their views in line with the constitution".

A senior official in Sudan’s NCP on Monday criticized the violent crackdown.

"The fact that so many have died points to the degree of violence," the official told Agence France Presse (AFP) on condition of anonymity.

"I believe it was unnecessary to repress the peaceful demonstrators. Peaceful demonstration is a constitutional right," the official said.

On Monday, the UK Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds said he was "shocked and saddened by reports of Sudanese security forces’ use of excessive force against protesters in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities over the last five days".

"I urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint and I call on the Sudanese Government to cease the use of live ammunition immediately," Simmonds said.
The UK official also said he is "concerned at the large number of detentions, including of a number of journalists and political activists, and by the heavy censorship of the press and closure of international news agencies".

"The Government of Sudan must respect the right of its people to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression," he added.

Last week, the US issued a condemnation of the "brutal crackdown" on protestors and " excessive use of force against civilians".

"Such a heavy-handed approach by Sudanese security forces is disproportionate, deeply concerning, and risks escalation of the unrest" the US State department said.

In Geneva the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Cécile Pouilly, issued a statement last Friday expressing concern following reports about excessive use of force against peaceful protesters .

"We are deeply concerned about reports that a significant number of people have been killed during the demonstrations taking place across Sudan since Monday", Pouilly said.

The spokesperson called on the Sudanese authorities to "show utmost restraint" and to refrain from resorting to violence, stressing that "under international law, intentional lethal use of firearms can only be justified when strictly unavoidable and only in order to protect life".

(ST)

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