Tight security, shops shut as S Sudan warns against protests
Security forces patrolled South Sudan's capital Juba yesterday and many shops were shut as the authorities warned of a tough crackdown against anyone joining a planned anti-government protest.
The world's newest nation has suffered from chronic instability since independence in 2011, with deepening discontent prompting a coalition of civil society groups to urge South Sudan's leadership to step down, saying they have "had enough".
The demonstration was set to take place the same day as President Salva Kiir inaugurated a newly created national parliament, a key condition of a 2018 peace deal that ended South Sudan's brutal civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people.
The government has taken a hard line against the People's Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) and its calls for a peaceful public uprising, arresting at least eight activists and detaining three journalists this month in connection with the demonstrations, according to rights groups.
Although the protest organisers had urged the public to come out in force, no demonstrations were reported in Juba, with residents telling AFP they were afraid even to leave home.
"We are hearing that there is no work today, and besides we are fearing (what the day will bring)," food hawker Emelda Susu told AFP.
"I will go to the market when I see things are normal, but for now one's life (comes) first, my friend. Yes I am fearing so I have to be careful," Jimmy Bandu, a small-scale trader, told AFP.
National security officers with militarised mounted vehicles patrolled usually busy neighbourhoods in Juba, which also saw a ramped-up police presence and low levels of traffic.
The authorities have branded the protest "illegal" and warned of strict measures against anyone who defies the ban.
"The government is in full control and... so everybody should resume his or (her) normal duties and... not fear anything," Information Minister Michael Makuei told AFP.
He dismissed reports of an internet shutdown after users reported difficulty accessing two of the country's main networks, Zain and MTN, blaming any problems on technical troubles.
The US embassy in Juba has asked its citizens to avoid the areas where protesters may assemble, urging them to "exercise caution".
With the mood in the usually bustling capital decidedly subdued, Kiir told members of the new parliament to put citizens' "needs above partisan consideration... (and) place the people of South Sudan above any narrow party interest".
"We should always remember that our final mandate in this (peace) process is to hold free, fair and credible democratic elections at the end of the transitional period," he added.
South Sudan's peace process has suffered from years of drift and bickering following the 2018 ceasefire and power-sharing deal between Kiir and his former foe Vice President Riek Machar.
The PCCA -- a broad-based coalition of activists, academics, lawyers and former government officials -- has described the current regime as "a bankrupt political system that has become so dangerous and has subjected our people to immense suffering".
The truce between Kiir and Machar still largely holds but it is being sorely tested, as politicians bicker over power and promises for peace go unmet.