Middle East

Volunteer doctors, cooks help Sudanese keep up protests

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — The protesters in Sudan wave national flags, chant “freedom” and bang plastic drums in the sweltering summer heat, while others man makeshift clinics or prepare meals for fellow demonstrators.

For nearly four months, thousands of people protested across Sudan, calling for autocratic president Omar al-Bashir to step down. Their wish came true on April 11, when the military ended his 30-year rule and placed him under house arrest.

But it wasn’t enough for the demonstrators, who fear an army dominated by al-Bashir appointees will cling to power or select one of its own to succeed him. So thousands of people continue to gather at a sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum set up April 6.

“They will make us suffer, so that is why we insist that the sit-in continues,” said Abubakr al-Awad, 23. “They said they want to stay for two years, we will stay three years.”

Demonstrators have called for an “immediate and unconditional” transfer of power to a four-year civilian government, while the military has said its own transitional council will rule for up to two years until elections can be organized.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, which is behind the protests, has urged people to join the sit-in and defend it from any attempts by the military to disperse the demonstrators.

That means spending long days under a relentless sun, with temperatures hovering above 40 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit).

A network of volunteers helps keep the demonstration going, with doctors and nurses staffing clinics set up in the streets surrounding the sit-in.

Al-Awad, a recent medical school graduate, has been volunteering since last week, spending most of his time helping patients from the sit-in. On Tuesday, dozens of protesters suffered from heat exhaustion, and in one clinic a man could be seen receiving an IV drip.

“There is a system in place where those who have, give, and those who don’t have, take,” said al-Awad.

Dafallah Awad, 34, said the country has been ruined by al-Bashir’s government. He has never been able to get a full-time job. “The regime has stolen all our rights,” he said.

A few tents over from the clinic, a group of women prepare lunch for the crowds. The volunteers pool their money to buy supplies to make food on site for anyone who wants it.

“We don’t want people to go back home,” said Razan Hassan al-Tayeb, 29, who was helping prepare a meal of lentils. “People come just as they are and they don’t come with anything, so we are trying to make people not go back home hungry or thirsty or something like that.”

Al Tayeb comes from a five-person household but says even though four of them are working, they can never make ends meet.

“Outside the sit-in, it’s a different place but inside the sit-in, this is the place that we dream of — freedom, where you can speak and have a voice. You can say whatever you want. Whatever you desire to say and reach the people,” she said.

Photo: Demonstrators rally near the military headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan, Monday, April 15, 2019. The Sudanese protest movement on Monday welcomed the “positive steps” taken by the ruling military council, which held talks over the weekend with the opposition leaders and released some political prisoners. The praise came despite a brief incident earlier Monday where activists said soldiers attempted to disperse the ongoing protest sit-in outside the military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, but eventually backed off. (AP Photo/Salih Basheer)


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