Internet disrupted, streets quiet in South Sudan after call for protests

The capital Juba was quieter than usual as residents sheltered inside

  
A man holds South Sudan's national flag as he celebrates referendum results in Abyei October 31, 2013. Image used for illustrative purpose.

A man holds South Sudan's national flag as he celebrates referendum results in Abyei October 31, 2013. Image used for illustrative purpose.

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

NAIROBI- Internet services in South Sudan were disrupted on Monday and security forces patrolled the streets after activists called for protests against President Salva Kiir's government.

The capital Juba was quieter than usual as residents sheltered inside.

A coalition of activist groups reiterated their call on Sunday for rallies demanding Kiir's resignation. However, there was no sign by mid-afternoon of big street gatherings in Juba. Some activists told Reuters they were in hiding for security reasons.

The activists accuse Kiir's government of corruption and failing to protect the population or provide basic services. The government has repeatedly denied allegations from rights and advocacy groups of abuses and corruption.

Addressing lawmakers as he opened a new session of parliament, Kiir termed those behind the calls as people "who wish us ill".

"Improving the wellbeing of our people is our priority," he said.

Parliament should urgently approve the government's budget, Kiir said, adding that lawmakers should also help to facilitate the process towards an election due at the end of a transitional period to stave off instability.

Police said the activists had not sought permission to protest and therefore any large demonstration would be illegal.

"We deployed the forces at least to keep order in case of any problem. Those forces are in the streets for your safety," police spokesperson Daniel Justin Boulogne said.

Mobile data was unavailable on the network of South African mobile operator MTN Group late on Sunday, and by Monday morning it was also halted on the network of Kuwait-based operator Zain Group.

Alp Toker, director of NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet disruptions, said it detected "significant disruption to internet service in South Sudan beginning Sunday evening, including to leading cellular networks".

Deputy Information Minister Baba Medan told Reuters he could not comment on the reported shutdown as he was busy attending the opening of parliament. MTN did not immediately respond to a comment request.

An industry source with direct knowledge of the matter said the outage was due to a directive by the government and that services were expected to be restored by 6 p.m. local time.

Activist Jame David Kolok, whose Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance is one of the groups that called for the demonstration, told Reuters that the internet shutdown was a sign "the authorities are panicking".

(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai and Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan) ((maggie.fick@thomsonreuters.com; +254 798 985 128;))


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