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Sudan opposition leader's daughter detained as professors protest

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Security forces detained the daughter of Sudanese opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi on Wednesday, her family said, as anti-government protests spread to the capital’s main university.

FILE PHOTO: Sudanese leading opposition figure Sadiq al-Mahdi addresses his supporters after he returned from nearly a year in self-imposed exile in Khartoum, Sudan December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo

Two security vehicles arrived at Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi’s home in Khartoum in the morning and took her away, her sister Rabah told Reuters, a day after Sudan’s security chief ordered the release of dozens of detained protesters.

There was no immediate comment from the government.

Mariam is deputy head of the opposition Umma Party led by her father, Sudan’s last democratically elected prime minister, who was overthrown by President Omar al-Bashir in a coup in 1989.

She has supported a wave of protests that have shaken cities across Sudan since Dec. 19. Demonstrators, frustrated with price increases, cash shortages and other economic hardships, have called for an end to Bashir’s three-decade rule.

Later on Wednesday, the army released a statement saying that those leading the protests were hurting Sudan and that the military would not allow the state to collapse. The statement followed calls by some activists for the military to back the protests and pressure the government to step down.

“The armed forces will not allow the Sudanese state to fall or to slide into the unknown,” said General Kamal Abdul Maarouf, chief of staff of the armed forces, in a statement.

Rights groups say at least 45 people have been killed in the protests. The government puts the death toll at 30, including two security personnel.

Around 250 professors from the University of Khartoum protested on campus on Wednesday, demanding a new transitional administration to replace the current one.

More than 500 of the university’s professors signed a memo calling for the creation of a “sovereign body” to form a new government and oversee a four-year transitional period.

The university educated many of Sudan’s leading politicians and has been the scene of protests and unrest throughout the country’s tempestuous history.

“The University of Khartoum’s role as an academic institution is to find solutions for the peaceful transfer of power,” Montasser al-Tayeb, one of the professors, told reporters.

Sadiq al-Mahdi returned to Sudan last month from nearly a year in self-imposed exile and called for a democratic transition before thousands of supporters.

He was overthrown by an alliance of Islamists and military commanders, led by Bashir, that still forms the nucleus of the ruling National Congress Party.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges - which he denies - of masterminding genocide in the Darfur region. He has been lobbying to have Sudan removed from a list of countries, along with Syria, Iran and North Korea, that Washington considers state sponsors of terrorism.

That listing has prevented an influx of investment and financial aid that Sudan was hoping for when the United States lifted sanctions in 2017, according to economists.

Sudan has been rapidly expanding its money supply in an attempt to finance its budget deficit. But that has caused spiraling inflation and a steep decline in the value of the country’s currency in foreign exchange markets.

Writing by Yousef Saba and Lena Masri; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Heavens

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