2 reported killed in protests against Bashir

Thousands of people were out on the streets Thursday at several locations in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, calling on the country’s longtime ruler to step down, according to videos circulating online. Activists said at least two protesters were killed and seven injured.

The demonstrations are the latest in a wave of unrest that began Dec. 19 across most of Sudan, first to protest economic conditions but soon to demand an end to Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s 29-year autocratic rule.

Thursday’s protests began in more than a dozen of the capital’s residential districts and in at least six cities across the country, with numbers in each protest varying from scores to the low hundreds.

In response, security forces in Khartoum sealed off main roads and used tear gas to disperse protesters, said the activists, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The protesters chanted “Just leave!” — fast becoming the uprising’s slogan — and “Freedom, peace and justice.”

There was no word from authorities on Thursday’s casualties, but the government announced that 29 people have been killed in the unrest, five more than the last tally it gave.

Bashir has said any change of leadership could come only through the ballot box.

— Associated Press


Kurdish militia sees talks with Damascus

The head of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, believes talks with the government over the future of the northeast region will begin within days after a “positive” reaction from Damascus.

Any deal between the YPG militia and President Bashar al-Assad’s government could piece together the two biggest chunks of a nation splintered by eight years of conflict.

Attempts at dialogue have revived since President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the Kurdish-led region. “There are attempts to carry out negotiations. . . . The Syrian government stance was positive,” YPG leader Sipan Hemo said.

In a voice recording sent by his representatives late Wednesday, Hemo said U.S. moves to withdraw were overly hasty and could not happen while the battle against Islamic State still rages. The Syrian Democratic Forces, which the YPG spearheads, has worked with the United States in the fight against the militants

Syrian Kurdish leaders have sought Russian mediation for talks with Assad’s state, hoping to safeguard their autonomous region when U.S. troops pull out. They fear an attack by Turkey, which sees the Syrian Kurdish fighters as indistinguishable from a Kurdish insurgency within its borders.

On a recent visit, Hemo said, U.S. envoy James Jeffrey talked to him and other officials about both satisfying Turkey and protecting northern Syria.

— Reuters


E.U. to discuss more Russia sanctions

European Union foreign ministers will discuss in February imposing more sanctions against Russia over a standoff with Ukraine in the Azov Sea, diplomats said.

The bloc will also issue a démarche — a formal diplomatic protest note — to Moscow as early as next week over Russia’s continued detention of 24 Ukrainian sailors captured in the November incident, they added.

Separately, a Ukrainian court on Thursday sentenced former president Viktor Yanukovych in absentia to 13 years in prison for treason, saying his conduct in office had opened the door to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014 following street protests against his rule. His successor, Petro Poroshenko, has adopted a pro-Western foreign policy, reversing Yanukovych’s tilt toward Moscow.

Yanukovych’s lawyers said they would appeal the judgment.

— Reuters

Russian bill targets fake news: Russian lawmakers backed a proposal mandating jail terms of up to 15 days for insulting authorities online and another prohibiting the spread of fake news, measures the opposition says are aimed at stifling dissent. The bills passed their first of three readings in the lower house. One bill proposes fines of up to $76 or a 15-day jail term for those expressing crude and blatant disrespect toward the government, the public, the national flag or the constitution.

U.S. launches Somalia strikes: The U.S. military says it has carried out two new airstrikes in Somalia against the al-Shabab extremist group but will no longer give details on fighters killed or damage done. A spokesman said those details are up to Somalia to share. He later said one extremist was killed.

— From news services