Sudan: Embassy in Washington Closes Doors Over Darfur Protests

23 August 2004

Washington, DC — Sudan's U.S. embassy in Washington, D.C. closed Monday, according to its official Web site and a notice posted outside the embassy's door.

A sign reading, "Notice from the Embassy: This is to inform that the Embassy will be closed starting from Monday, August 23, 2004 until further notice" was posted in Arabic and English on the embassy's front door.

"They want to try to reduce [the embassy] as a site for visible public protest," said Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action. "I have not seen an official statement or notice."

Attempts to reach the Sudanese embassy officials for confirmation and an explanation for the closure have been unsuccessful. The U.S. State Department was unable to provide the information at this time.

Despite the closure, the daily hour-long protest organized by the Sudan Campaign in front of the embassy continued.

"Their shutting down the embassy doesn't prevent what we're trying to accomplish," said Joe Madison, the president of the Sudan Campaign. "We will be there every day until the president of the U.S. issues a declaration of genocide [in Sudan] or until the Sudanese government reaches an agreement that normalizes the lives of black people of Darfur."

Since June 29, 2004, activists from the Sudan Campaign have protested the crisis in Sudan every day from noon to 1:00 p.m.

People of all ages, backgrounds and professions marched in front of the Sudanese embassy braving the D.C. summer heat. Under the scorching midday sun, the group chanted, sang and held picket signs that call for an intervention in the east African country.

Although Madison does not know why the embassy closed Monday, he speculates that the demonstrations had become a source of "embarrassment."

"The demonstrations have been an embarrassment, globally and [embassy officials] feel they can somehow stop the demonstrations," Madison said.

He also said that Sudanese embassy officials were trying to deter the protesters by shutting down.

"They probably feel that they can end the demonstration by closing," Madison said. "We won't stop."

"It's not our goal to shut down the embassy. The goal is to shut down what's going on inside Sudan."

The protesters seemed invigorated by the news of the closure.

"This is the first time the embassy has closed down," Rev. C. Anthony Muse said. "It shows that we are making an impact."

The chants and the songs continued as people holding up signs that read, "Slavery + Genocide= Sudan," urged passing cars to honk.

Protesters yelled, "You can't hide, it's genocide!"

Timothy Jenkins, an attorney and activist, said the embassy is still an appropriate location for the protest.

"This is Sudanese soil and it's as close as we can get," Jenkins said.

Madison agreed and said the daily protests will continue in front of the embassy. On Wednesday, Africa Action and the TransAfrica Forum are planning additional protests, in which organization leaders and actor Danny Glover plan an act of civil disobediance, Booker said. They anticipate being arrested by U.S. Secret Service officers for disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly.

According to recent news reports, the 18-month conflict in Darfur, a region in western Sudan, has resulted in the displacement of 1.5 million people and the deaths of 50,000 Sudanese. The United Nations has called this the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

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