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Khartoum banks shuttered on second day of opposition strikes

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Khartoum banks shuttered on second day of opposition strikes
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KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Banks in the Sudanese capital Khartoum were closed on Wednesday on the second day of strikes organised by protest and opposition groups to pressure military rulers to cede power to civilians.

Several banks visited by a Reuters reporter were fully closed, and cash machines had not been restocked for several days. Employees at the central bank were also on strike.

“We are committed to the strike in order to achieve peaceful rule,” said an employee of the Blue Nile Mashreg Bank in Khartoum. “And we are ready to participate in civil disobedience if the Freedom and Change Forces ask us to.”

The Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) alliance had called for a two-day strike of public and private enterprises from Tuesday.

The action comes during a lull in talks between the alliance and the ruling military council that forced out ex-President Omar al-Bashir last month. The two sides are deadlocked over who will control a political transition, though discussions are continuing at a lower level.

Protesters have kept up a sit-in outside the Defence Ministry since before Bashir was ousted.

Not everyone has observed the strike, with buses and most air transport still operating. Shops, including clothes and shoe retailers where people buy gifts ahead of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday ending the holy month of Ramadan next week, were open.

But the strike has been widespread in the financial sector, already struggling from an economic crisis that led to shortages of fuel and cash and helped trigger the 16 weeks of mass protests against Bashir’s rule.

It was also being widely followed in the medical and power sectors. Port services were restricted to passenger ships for pilgrims, according to media and social media reports.

The DFCF alliance said late on Wednesday that security forces had used force and threats in an attempt to intimidate some employees who were striking in the eastern city of al-Qadarif and elsewhere.

The alliance said it continues to demand that civilians, not military officials, rule the country. If the military council does not agree, protesters will escalate by turning to civil disobedience, the DFCF said.

“We do not want more confrontations, but if we have to, the Sudanese people’s demand is clear and it is a civilian state,” DFCF member Sadiq Farouk told reporters. “Anything else is unacceptable.”

The DFCF had previously said that the military council has demanded a two-thirds majority, of eight to three, on the sovereign council that will lead the country of 40 million.

Sudan was on a U.S. list of sponsors of terrorism under Bashir, an Islamist former general who was being sought by international prosecutors for alleged war crimes in the western Darfur region.

Stability in the strategically located country is crucial for the security of a volatile region struggling against Islamist insurgencies, including the Horn of Africa through Egypt and Libya. Various powers, including wealthy Gulf Arab states, are trying to influence its path.

(Reporting by Khartoum bureau; Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Aidan Lewis and Lena Masri; Editing by Catherine Evans and Sonya Hepinstall)

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