African Union shuts down Sudan due to coup as police

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Sudanese security forces on Wednesday launched sweeping arrests of anti-coup protesters in an attempt to end three days of demonstrations against a military takeover that has triggered widespread international condemnation when the African Union (AU) ended its membership.

Armed forces deployed in large numbers after overnight protests saw clashes in the capital Khartoum, with officers firing tear gas and arresting several leading pro-democracy activists, including from Sudan’s largest political party, the Umma Party.

“Police forces have removed all the barricades since Wednesday morning and grabbed all people who were close to them,” said Hady Bashir, a protest, after Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondents seen security forces clear stones and tires that block larger streets in Khartoum.

At the same time, the AU has stopped Sudan’s participation in all activities until the civilian-led authority is restored, it said in a communication dated Tuesday. The Pan-African body said the suspension would be in place until “the effective restoration” of the transitional authority that governs the country against elections.

Since General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan on Monday ordered the dissolution of the government and declared a state of emergency, thousands of citizens have staged protests and chanted “No to military rule”.

Stores have remained closed following calls for a campaign for civil disobedience, as pro-democracy movements increased calls for “million-dollar protests” on Saturday. On Tuesday, al-Burhan allowed Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok – who was arrested by the military on Monday along with his ministers and civilian members of the Sudanese ruling council – after intense international pressure. But Hamdok and his wife were returned “under close surveillance,” his office said on Tuesday, while other ministers and civilian leaders are still under full military arrest.

In a joint statement, diplomats from the United States, Britain and Norway – the group previously involved in mediating Sudanese conflicts known as the “Troika” – as well as the European Union and Switzerland, called for an urgent face-to-face meeting with Hamdok. “We continue to recognize the Prime Minister and his cabinet as the constitutional leaders of the transitional government,” the statement said.

The coup comes after a rocky two-year transition outlined in a power-sharing agreement between the military and civilians in August 2019 following the ouster of Omar al-Bashir due to mass protests against his regime. Monday’s coup was the latest in one of the world’s most underdeveloped countries, which has only experienced rare democratic interplay since independence in 1956.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said “it would be catastrophic for Sudan to go backwards after finally ending decades of repressive dictatorship.”

Burhan, who became de facto head of state in 2019 as head of the Joint Military-Civilian Sovereignty Council, was also a senior general during Bashir’s three decades of hard rule and is backed by Sudan’s much-feared paramilitary rapid reaction forces. Tensions had been simmering between the civilian and military sides for a long time, but divisions increased after what the government said was a failed coup on September 21 this year.

Four people were killed and many injured on Monday when soldiers opened fire on protesters, according to a medical group. Violence against protesters has increased as security forces launched “revenge attacks” on protests across the country, said the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella of trade unions that was instrumental in the protests against Bashir.

Late on Tuesday, security forces arrested Sedeeq Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, deputy for Sudan’s prominent Umma party, and took him to “an unidentified location,” his family said.

Internet services have been blocked. But the Khartoum airport, which has been closed for flights, will reopen on Wednesday afternoon, the civil aviation authority said. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Hamdok on Tuesday, the State Department said, and welcomed the prime minister’s return from custody but expressed “deep concern” over the takeover and reiterated US support for a civil-led democracy.

Washington, a key supporter of the transition, has suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in aid over the coup. The EU has also threatened “serious consequences” for Sudanese rulers, including the suspension of financial aid. Analysts warned that the shift could leave the country “deterred” and risk much-needed international aid unlocked under Hamdok’s government to save the Sudanese economy, hit by decades of US sanctions and mismanagement.

The UN Security Council held a crisis meeting late on Tuesday to discuss the crisis, and the Arab League also expressed concern. Sudan’s ambassadors to the United States, Belgium, France and Switzerland said on Tuesday that they supported the civilian leaders and declared their diplomatic missions “embassies of the Sudanese people and their revolution”, according to the Ministry of Information.

Al-Bashir has been imprisoned since he was ousted in 2019 and convicted of corruption. He is facing trial for the 1989 coup that brought him to power. The former strongman is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) accused of genocide in the civil war in Darfur.

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