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Here's the Mancunian Way for today:
“I will update you every day, don't worry. If I don't respond, message one of your uncles or cousins. The things here are bad, it will get worse before it gets better.”
That’s the message Hakim Hafazalla has received from his dad Elmugiera, who is currently in Sudan. Hakim - who works as a Manchester Evening News reporter - was due to visit the country for a family wedding when civil war broke out.
Since then he and his mum have been scrabbling for information about the ongoing situation and trying, sometimes with extreme difficulty, to keep in touch with Elmugiera from their home in Gorton.
We’ll be discussing the situation in Sudan and what it’s like for worried families here in the UK in today’s newsletter. We’ll also be talking about why football fans are nervous ahead of the FA Cup final (it's not the reason you think) and why a college was forced to close this week. Let’s begin.
'This conflict changes you, even from so far away'
As this newsletter was sent out, the first plane for British nationals being evacuated from Sudan had taken off from an airstrip outside Khartoum. The Northeast African country is several hours into a fragile ceasefire that has allowed space for a mission to evacuate British nationals.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says around 120 British troops are supporting the operation and Royal Marines are scoping out a possible seaborne evacuation from Port Sudan - 500 miles from the capital. British passport holders are being urged to make their way to the airfield, where they will be able to board flights to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus before being flown to the UK.
Among them is delivery driver and university student Elmugiera Hafazalla, from Gorton. He does not yet know how he will get home to Manchester - and the ongoing situation in the Northeast African country is a constant source of worry for his family. As his son Hakim writes in this very personal piece, for many Sudanese people, it seems extraordinary that conflict has broken out three times in four years.
“My initial response was shock and a strange case of deja vu. Both the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were allies and they had successfully taken power after coups in 2021 and 2019. It was being repeated all over again. How can conflict break out three times in four years? It didn't feel real,” Hakim writes.
Due to visit Sudan for a family wedding, Hakim’s excitement turned to fear when the news of a civil war first broke. Knowing that the 2021 coup had closed all airports and limited internet access, he wondered how his dad would get home.
Elmugiera, 56, is staying with family in an apartment block in the Al-Sahafa district of the city, which has been subject to heavy shelling and gunfire. A video taken by family members shows some of the damage to the neighbourhood and a family member can be heard saying: “The plane is just dropping bombs anywhere. Look at how our neighbours’ house windows have broken. All of it has broken."
Elmugiera - who also works as a medical translator - only leaves the apartment to get groceries and water. Hakim says he has heard ‘a lot of shelling’. “There's been a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. Dad didn't know how long he would be there for. This last week has been the most anxious of my life - I've not been sleeping or eating properly,” he says.
Hakim says the conflict could not have come at a ‘worse time’ for Sudan as people struggle to afford essentials. “I still remember how the streets of Sudan felt when I visited a few months after the 2019 coup ended,” he writes. “The journey from the airport to my family's house in Omdurman was around 30 minutes as the airport was in Khartoum.
"While the 40-degree heat was hitting me, I saw vehicles used in war that I had only seen in video games before. Seeing a Terradyne Armored Vehicle in real life with a minigun mounted above felt like I was in a movie but then you remember the repercussions of conflict in reality.
“While travelling through the sandy roads, my family explained to me how the armoured vehicles and weapon-equipped soldiers were there for precautionary reasons in case anything happens. I still remember the way my stomach dropped. It was a feeling I experienced again a few days ago when I heard the news.”
Hakim says communication with his dad has been difficult and he has a feeling of ‘helplessness’ as he bombards his family with messages. “If I don't hear back from them within an hour or two, panic starts to set in. You become extremely anxious and start to think the worst,” he writes.
Increasingly frustrated by a lack of updates from the Home Office, Hakim says he sets an alarm two hours after he is due to go to sleep so he can check the situation and reassure himself his family is safe. “This conflict changes you as a person, even from so far away,” he writes.
More than 420 people have been killed and 3,700 injured in Sudan since intense fighting broke out. Abdu Mohammed, one of Hakim’s best friends living in Sudan, told him: “People here are not getting any assistance from anyone, everyone making their way to different parts of Sudan. They will either drive or take the bus. They have to plan the route ahead though because the roads are dangerous sometimes, at night it's even worse.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak authorised the evacuation operation in Sudan late on Monday night after facing criticism for failing to airlift anyone other than British diplomats and their families over the weekend. Priority on the flights will be given to the most vulnerable, with more than 2,000 citizens having registered in Sudan with the Foreign Office.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly says it is ‘impossible’ to know how long the pause in fighting will last after rival generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire.
What could possibly go wrong?
“God that was nerve wracking. Here's to an all Manchester final,” tweeted Manchester Council leader Bev Craig after Manchester United's penalty-shootout victory against Brighton on Sunday.
“All that stands in the way now is Avanti trains. What could possibly go wrong," she added. You may detect a hint of sarcasm - and you’d be right. After all, the leader hasn’t exactly been effusive about Avanti West Coast’s ability to get Mancs to where they want to go in recent months.
Following months of delays and cancellations, passengers were surprised when the company had its contract extended for a further six months by the Department for Transport. But the newly-appointed managing director has promised the train operator has 'turned a corner'.
Nevertheless, some are worried about reaching the capital when they head off to watch City and United at Wembley for the FA Cup final clash on June 3. But Avanti bosses say they have already been in touch with both football clubs and plan to be able to update all customers, including fans travelling to the final, in 'due course.'
‘A really good day’
Manchester Arena bombing survivor Martin Hibbert has made good on a promise to take the paramedic who saved his life to Wembley.
Martin was paralysed following 22 shrapnel wounds which left him with a severed spinal cord. His daughter Eve, then 14, suffered a devastating brain injury also caused by shrapnel from the bomb.
Martin has developed an amazing friendship with paramedic Paul Harvey, who saved his life after the May 2017 terror attack. The pair were at Wembley on Sunday when United beat Brighton on penalties in the FA Cup semi-final. And they will return for the final in June.
"It was a great day. It was the first time Paul was at Wembley as well. It was a really good day,” Martin told reporter John Scheerhout. "It wasn't just about football. It was about love and friendship and what good can come out of a bad night."
Paul made a crucial decision to take Martin to Salford Royal Hospital, which has a major trauma unit, and to administer a blood clotting agent to prevent him bleeding to death on the night of the Arena bombing. Martin believes he would have died if Paul had followed instructions and taken him to Wythenshawe Hospital.
The opportunity 'to speak to those who need us most'
Greater Manchester Police say the number of arrests related to domestic abuse has risen by 79 per cent in the 12 months to March. And the force says there was a 33 per cent increase in arrests made in connection with rape and sexual offences over the same period. Charges and summons also increased by 32 per cent and 24 per cent respectively.
Bosses say an increased use of Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) has helped, as Sophie Halle-Richards reports. The notices allow police and magistrates to put protective measures in place in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence incident and where there is insufficient evidence to charge a perpetrator and provide protection to a victim.
Michaela Kerr, head of Public Protection at GMP says the progress is encouraging but there is room for further improvement. "With showcasing our progress comes the opportunity to speak to those who need us most,” she says.
“To anyone who is suffering or has suffered at the hands of a perpetrator of domestic abuse or sex offender, please let this reassure you that GMP will take you seriously, we will ensure you are supported by specialist officers and the network of services across Greater Manchester, we will put you at the heart of our investigations and we will do so with the intention of securing the best possible outcome for you and anyone else affected.”
College forced to close after dozens of caravans descend on campus
Stockport College was forced to close to students and staff when dozens of caravans descended on the site on Sunday.
Bosses sent out a note on Sunday informing students about the 'unforeseen circumstances'. They later confirmed the campus would remain closed on Tuesday too, with lessons conducted remotely where possible.
As of Monday afternoon, the 'unauthorised vehicles' were said to have left the site. But it’s understood an extensive clean-up is required.
Calls for probe into Salford councillor
Remember that Salford councillor whose name will appear on ballot papers in the Cotswolds next month? Well police are being asked to investigate possible breaches of election law as a result.
Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Twells represents Ordsall, in Salford, and does not face re-election here this year. But he is standing as a candidate for Tetbury with Upton.
As Nick Jackson reports, Conservatives have asked the Cotswold District Council election monitoring officer Angela Clarridge to contact police over issues relating to multiple Lib Dem candidates who are using the same address. In a reply, Ms Clarridge has put them in direct contact with the Gloucestershire Constabulary, although a police spokesperson said they are yet to receive any complaints over the matter.
An open letter from the leader of Cotswold Conservatives Tony Berry to the Lib Dem council leader of Cotswold District Council Joe Harris has been posted on Facebook. It claims the LibDems 'unable to find sufficient local candidates' have 'resorted to parachuting in their agent who is currently a serving city councillor in Salford near Manchester which is 153 miles away'. "We are currently investigating whether they are allowed to do this, but even if they are, surely the electorate is entitled to have a local councillor who lives locally representing them for the next four years.”
Salford city mayor Paul Dennett says Salford Labour is also looking to submit a complaint to the council's monitoring officer and standards committee regarding Coun Twells, following ‘speculation and confusion over his permanent home address’.
Coun Twells - who also works as a professional election agent for the Lib Dems - did not respond to a request for comment. A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said they are not aware of any current investigation by police.
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Wednesday: Cloudy. 12C.
Road closures: A662 Pollard Street, New Islington, in both directions closed due to roadworks from Boond Street to A665 Great Ancoats Street. Until May 10.
Trivia question: Which BRIT and MOBO award nominated Manchester band had a Top 5 hit with a cover of The Jackson 5's I Want You Back?
Vandalism: Adult store Clonezone, in Manchester's Gay Village, has been vandalised again. The shop on Sackville Street, in the heart of Manchester’s LGBTQ+ district, had its windows smashed with a crowbar by a group of individuals who reportedly sped off from the scene on a moped. It’s the third attack at the store in a matter of weeks. The glass front door was damaged by vandals less than two weeks ago and in March, the windows were boarded up after another attack, prompting the store to issue a public statement commenting: “Windows can be broken but the LGBTQIA+ community cannot." Manchester Council leader Bev Craig says councillors have called for an urgent meeting with police to ‘make sure they’re doing all they can to catch the criminals’.
New flights: Jet2 will expand its services to Vienna from Manchester Airport this winter. The airline has announced that it will operate flights and city break holidays to Vienna for the full winter 2023-24 season. Previously, Vienna was only available as a Christmas Market destination, but now passengers can enjoy city break deals to the Austrian capital from September to May. Up to two weekly services - operating on Mondays and Fridays - will be available from September 29, 2023 to May 20, 2024, from Manchester Airport. Vienna joins eight other city break destinations available as part of the Jet2 winter programme from Manchester Airport. More here.
MMR: A warning has been issued by medics about the MMR vaccines. The region has seen a decline in the uptake of childhood vaccinations, according to NHS leaders. That includes the MMR vaccine protecting measles, mumps and rubella, a trend which is reflected nationally. Latest figures show 84.8 per cent of five-year-olds in Greater Manchester have had both doses of their MMR vaccine - well below the 95 per cent World Health Organization target needed to achieve and sustain measles elimination. Greater Manchester NHS bosses are urging parents and carers to check that their child is up to date with the MMR vaccine and other childhood immunisations by either looking at their child’s Red Book (personal child health record) or contacting their GP.
New: A new ‘ice cream emporium’ is all set to open on Stevenson Square. Called Sweet!, it’s by the team behind the hidden Northern Quarter speakeasy The Fitzgerald and is opening its doors this week. The new location is just around the corner from The Fitzgerald, next door to Hula, another of the team’s bar projects. They told the M.E.N: “Stevenson Square has become a bit of a hub in summer over the last couple of years. It's the place to be, especially now it's been pedestrianised permanently. So we thought, what's missing from the square, what will work well? And we landed on ice cream. The ice cream is Mrs Dowsons which comes from a dairy farm in the Ribble Valley in Blackburn. Mrs Dowsons produce high-quality all-natural ingredients for their ice cream.”
Worth a read
If you want to understand what’s happening in Sudan, I’d highly advise reading this excellent piece by the Guardian’s Nesrine Malik.
She explains how civilians, who have been trying to throw off military rule for decades, are now caught in the middle of a fierce and dangerous power struggle.
That's all for today
Thanks for joining me. If you have stories you would like us to look into, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The answer to today's trivia question is: Cleopatra.