GENEVA - U.N. human rights experts say Sudan must end its horrific legacy of violence and abuse and respect the rights of its people if it wishes to achieve a peaceful and stable society.
A senior U.N. official has provided an update on the situation in Sudan, on behalf of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour said he is encouraged by the agreement reached Friday between Sudan's Forces for Freedom and Change and the Transitional Military Council.
He praised the African Union and Ethiopia for mediating the preliminary power-sharing deal between Sudan's civilian opposition and military junta. But he said it will take a lot of perseverance and genuine commitment to make the deal work after months of violent protests, which finally succeeded in toppling long-time president Omar al-Bashir on April 11.
"Following the removal of President al-Bashir from office, the High Commissioner underscored that the crisis in Sudan has its roots in human rights grievances — unfulfilled economic, social, civil and political rights — and that, therefore, the solution must also be grounded in human rights," he added.
Gilmour noted Bashir's removal unfortunately did not end violence or abuse in the country. He said more than 100 peaceful protestors were killed by security forces on June 6.
He said civilians opposed to continued military rule have been subject to widespread human rights violations and violent repression of protests.
"We encourage all parties in Sudan to continue to resolve any outstanding issues through dialogue," he stressed. "OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] welcomes that the agreement reached last week includes a commitment to conduct an independent investigation into the violence perpetrated against peaceful protestors. ... It is important that investigations contribute to justice and dignity for all victims of such violence."
Osama Humeida of Sudan's Ministry of Justice said the Transitional Military Council is committed to upholding all human rights mechanisms. He speaks through an interpreter.
"Sudan is living through a genuine change towards a transition of power as a result of an inspiring popular revolution that imposed new facts on the ground," he said. "In this new era, Sudan looks forward to the cooperation and the support of the international community in order to overcome the challenges it faces in all fields."
Humeida said Sudan is changing its ways, so it is time that unilateral coercive sanctions on his country be lifted.
He also urged nations to cancel Sudan's crippling foreign debt.
TEHRAN, IRAN - Iran's president warned European partners in its faltering nuclear deal on Wednesday that Tehran will increase its enrichment of uranium to "any amount that we want" beginning on Sunday, putting pressure on them to offer a way around intense U.S. sanctions targeting the country.
The comments by President Hassan Rouhani come as tensions remain high between Iran and the U.S. over the deal, which President Donald Trump pulled America from over a year ago.
Authorities on Monday acknowledged Iran broke through a limit placed on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
An increasing stockpile and higher enrichment close the estimated one-year window Iran would need to produce enough material for a nuclear bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the nuclear deal sought to prevent.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has rushed an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and F-22 fighters to the region and Iran recently shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone. On Wednesday, Iran marked the shootdown by the U.S. Navy of an Iranian passenger jet in 1988, a mistake that killed 290 people and shows the danger of miscalculation in the current crisis.
Speaking at a Cabinet meeting in Tehran, Rouhani's comments seemed to signal that Europe has yet to offer Iran anything to alleviate the pain of the renewed U.S. sanctions targeting its oil industry and top officials.
Iran's nuclear deal currently bars it from enriching uranium above 3.67%, which is enough for nuclear power plants but far below the 90% needed for weapons.
"In any amount that we want, any amount that is required, we will take over 3.67," Rouhani said.
"Our advice to Europe and the United States is to go back to logic and to the negotiating table," Rouhani added. "Go back to understanding, to respecting the law and resolutions of the U.N. Security Council. Under those conditions, all of us can abide by the nuclear deal."
There was no immediate reaction in Europe, where the European Union just the day before finalized nominations to take over the bloc's top posts.
On Tuesday, European powers separately issued a statement over Iran breaking through its stockpile limit, calling on Tehran "to reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal."
Under the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to have less than 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium enriched to a maximum of 3.67%. Both Iran and the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency confirmed Monday that Tehran had breached that limit.
While that represents Iran's first major departure from the accord, it still remains likely a year away from having enough material for a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, but the West fears it could allow Iran to build a bomb.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, relatives of those killed in the 1988 downing of the Iranian passenger jet threw flowers into the Strait of Hormuz in mourning.
The downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the U.S. Navy remains one of the moments the Iranian government points to in its decades-long distrust of America. They rank it alongside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that toppled Iran's elected prime minister and secured Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's absolute power until he abdicated the throne before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Just after dawn on July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes sent a helicopter to hover over Iranian speedboats the Navy described as harassing commercial ships. The Iranians allegedly fired on the helicopter and the Vincennes gave chase, the Navy said. Unacknowledged for years afterward by the Navy though, the Vincennes had crossed into Iranian territorial waters in pursuit. It began firing at the Iranian ships there.
The Vincennes then mistook Iran Air flight 655, which had taken off from Bandar Abbas, Iran, heading for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, for an Iranian fighter jet. It fired missiles, killing all 290 people on board.
The U.S. later would give USS Vincennes Capt. William C. Rogers the country's Legion of Merit award, further angering Iran.
Iranian state television aired footage Wednesday of mourners in the strait, as armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard fast boats patrolled around them. They tossed gladiolas into the strait as some wept.
KHARTOUM - The top U.S. diplomat for Africa on Wednesday joined an international effort to press Sudan’s military rulers and the opposition toward a deal on a transition to democracy two months after the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir.
An Ethiopian envoy has said that the military and opposition groups have agreed to resume talks on the formation of a transitional council that collapsed after the violent dispersal of a protest sit-in June 3.
Tibor Nagy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, met Wednesday with the main opposition coalition and held talks with Sudan’s acting Deputy Foreign Minister Ilham Ibrahim.
Before the meetings, the State Department said Nagy was going to urge the parties to work toward an environment conducive to the resumption of negotiations. The United States also Wednesday named veteran diplomat Donald Booth as its envoy to Sudan.
After crackdown, no direct talks
After meeting Nagy, the main opposition coalition said that it would only participate in indirect talks and it would impose other conditions.
“We have informed the Ethiopian prime minister that we refuse to have direct negotiations with the transitional military council,” said Madani Abbas Madani, a leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces. “The point of contention between us is clear and our terms are clear; we are talking now about issues of transition to civilian rule and the rights of martyrs.”
The bloodshed has drawn expressions of concern from world powers including the United States, which imposed sanctions on Sudan under Bashir over its alleged support for militant groups and the civil war in Darfur.
Stability in the nation of 40 million is crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya.
The military council has been bolstered by support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which between them have offered $3 billion in aid.
“The current detente in Sudan calls for optimism and we call for the establishment of an agreement that will drive the transitional phase through a real and stable partnership,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter.
He also praised the role of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who flew to Khartoum last week on a mediation mission and is expected to return this week.
The June 3 crackdown led to at least 118 deaths, according to opposition-linked medics. The government has confirmed 61 deaths, including three security personnel.
Sudan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador, Irfan Siddiq, on Wednesday to protest his remarks, SUNA reported. As authorities tried to disperse the main protest site last week, he tweeted: “No excuse for any such attack. This. Must. Stop. Now.”
Talks between the military and the opposition were deadlocked before the crackdown as the two sides struggled to agree on the makeup of a sovereign council that will oversee the transition.
Capital returns to normal
In Khartoum, employees returned to work Wednesday and storeowners opened their shops, after the alliance of protesters and opposition groups suspended a three-day campaign of strikes and civil disobedience.
Many people lined up outside ATMs and banks that had closed first for the Eid holiday at the start of June and then because of the strike.
Sudan is still suffering an internet outage. Some side streets that had been closed by protesters were still partially blocked by remnants of barricades. Rubbish bins not emptied for days were overflowing.
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA. —
Police in the U.S. state of Virginia say a disgruntled public utility employee killed 12 people at a municipal building in Virginia Beach before he was killed by police.
The city’s police chief, James Cervera, said the shooter “immediately and indiscriminately fired upon all the victims” after he entered the municipal building shortly after 4 p.m. Friday.
He said six others were wounded in the shooting.
Cervera described the gunman as a disgruntled longtime employee of the city’s public utilities but did not say more about what led to the attack. He did not release the suspect’s name.
Witnesses say the shooting took place at Building Two of the Virginia Beach municipal complex, which houses the city’s public works, public utilities, and planning departments.
Cervera said one police officer was among those wounded but survived.
He said the investigation into the shooting is just beginning, but said police believe the suspect acted alone.
“The fact that the suspect was immediately confronted, the fact that the suspect is deceased, means that our citizens can rest easy tonight,” he said.
Reaction to the shooting
“This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach,” Mayor Bobby Dyer said at a news conference with the police chief. “The people involved are our friends, co-workers, neighbors, colleagues.”
The White House said U.S. President Donald Trump had been briefed and was monitoring the situation.
Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, traveled to Virginia Beach and said he had offered the state’s full support.
“This is unspeakable, senseless violence,” he said in a statement.
Virginia Senator Mark Warner said in a statement “I am horrified by what has happened today in Virginia Beach.”
Thousands of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana residents braced for more flooding Wednesday, and some evacuated their homes, as forecasts of further rain drove fears that decades-old levees girding the Arkansas River may not hold.
More than a week of violent weather, including downpours and deadly tornadoes, has lashed the central United States, bringing record-breaking floods to parts of the states, turning highways into lakes and submerging all but the roofs of some homes.
“This is a flood of historic magnitude,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson told a news conference Wednesday, joined by state and federal emergency officials. He said of the Arkansas River: “It’s a beautiful sight until it comes to get you.”
Flooding has already closed 12 state highways, he said, and 400 households have agreed to voluntary evacuations.
Hutchinson sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump Wednesday asking for a federal emergency declaration for Arkansas.
The levee system along the Arkansas River “has not seen this type of record flooding” before, Hutchinson said in his six-page letter. Hutchinson said Trump had promised assistance in an earlier conversation, several media outlets reported.
More heavy downpours were forecast through Wednesday night over much of Oklahoma and Arkansas, with between 1 and 3 inches (2.5-7.6 cm) expected, said Patrick Burke, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.
Rivers were expected to crest by early June to the highest levels on record all the way down to Little Rock, Arkansas, Burke said.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second largest city, Mayor G.T. Bynum warned that the city’s levees were being tested “in a way that they have never been before.”
He said the 20-mile (32 km) levee system, which protects some 10,000 people, was working as designed so far and being patrolled around the clock by the Oklahoma National Guard.
Staff at the Harvest Church West Tulsa, which sits behind a levee a few blocks from the Arkansas River, moved furniture and sound and office equipment from the basement to the church’s second floor and relocated staff out of the neighborhood.
“For levees that are 70 years old, they’re holding well but they’re not designed to hold the pressure this long, which is what the fear is at this point,” Chuck Barrineau, the church’s lead pastor, said in a phone interview.
At least six people have died in the latest round of flooding and storms in Oklahoma, according to the state’s Department of Health.
More than 300 tornadoes have touched down in the Midwest in the past two weeks. Tornadoes pulverized buildings in western Ohio on Monday, killing one person and injuring scores.
In Louisiana, the Mississippi River was also at record flood levels because of record-breaking rainfalls this spring, forecasters said.
Trump authorized emergency aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the state late Wednesday.
Louisiana Governor John Edwards said on Twitter: “I thank President Trump for recognizing the urgency of our request and responding so quickly.”
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Mississippi rose above flood stage in early January and has remained there since, forecasters said.