Protesters block Port Sudan airport, key bridge over peace deal with rebel groups

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Dozens of Sudanese demonstrators blocked Port Sudan airport in the country’s east, days after protesters closed a crucial port to deplore a peace deal between rebels and the government, witnesses said.

In October last year, several rebel groups signed a landmark accord with the transitional military-civilian government which came to power shortly after the April 2019 ouster of long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

The Hadendoa tribe, the largest subdivision of the Beja people in Sudan’s impoverished east, have criticised the fragile peace deal saying it does not represent them.

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A spokesman for Badr airlines, which has a daily flight between Port Sudan and the capital Khartoum, said it has suspended operations due to the unrest.

Airport officials were not immediately available for comment.

Witnesses told AFP that demonstrators also blocked a bridge linking Kassala with the rest of the country on Friday. They said public transport and motorists were barred from entering of leaving the riverfront city of Kassala.

Since Monday, demonstrators have impeded access to Port Sudan, the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its crippled economy dependent on exports.

The witnesses who spoke to AFP did not identify the protesters.

But Abdullah Abu Shar, a leader of the Beja people, confirmed the latest developments suggesting his tribe was behind the unrest.

“Today (Friday) there is a total closure of Red Sea and Kassala states,” Abu Shar told AFP.

“We have prohibited traffic in and out of Port Sudan airport and blocked Al-Batana bridge in Kassala,” he added.

Tensions have gripped Port Sudan since the government and rebel groups signed the deal in October 2020, with recurrent anti-government protests taking place.

The military has been key to agreeing to peace deals with Sudan’s rebel groups.

Last year, days after the agreement was signed, members of the Beja people also blocked the seaport for several days.

The latest protests come after the government on Tuesday thwarted a coup attempt which it said involved military officials and civilians linked to al-Bashir.

Analyst Magdi el-Gizouli of the Rift Valley Institute told AFP that the developments in the east are the “real crisis in Sudan, not the foiled coup.”

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