Defiant protesters thundered through the streets of Sudan on Tuesday, demonstrating against a military coup that the UN Security Council is expected to meet later to discuss, as international condemnation of the country’s security forces increases.
“Returning to the past is not an option,” chanted the crowds, who stayed outside despite soldiers opening fire and reportedly killing at least seven people. On Monday, soldiers imprisoned Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, ministers in his government and civilian members of the ruling council, who have been on the move to a transition to full civilian rule following the overthrow of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.
The subsequent announcement of a state of emergency and the dissolution of the government provoked an immediate international backlash, in which the United States, a key supporter of Sudan’s transition process, strongly condemned the military’s actions and stopped millions of dollars in aid.
The UN demanded Hamdok’s “immediate release”, while diplomats in New York told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the Security Council was expected to meet to discuss the crisis on Tuesday.
General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan – the head of the army and chairman of the country’s governing body, the Sovereign Council – announced the state of emergency, saying the army had taken the measures it had “to correct the course of the revolution”. Officials from al-Burhan’s office said he would hold a press conference later on Tuesday, a day after the military coup.
“General Burhan will speak at a press conference at the army headquarters in Khartoum” from 13.00 (11.00 GMT), officials said.
Internet services were cut off across the country and roads into Khartoum were closed, before soldiers stormed the headquarters of the state television company in the capital’s left-wing town of Omdurman. All telecommunications were cut off, Saudi-based Dubai-based television channel Al-Hadath said on Tuesday. There was no official confirmation of the communication outage.
“Civilian rule is the people’s choice,” chanted protesters, waving flags and using tires to create burning barricades. The Ministry of Information said that soldiers “fired live ammunition at protesters … outside the army headquarters”. At least seven protesters were killed and about 80 were injured, according to the Independent Central Committee of Sudan’s Doctors (CCSD).
At the same time, the imprisoned Hamdok issued a statement saying that the military’s actions represent a “complete coup”. He urged the public to take to the streets to protest the military takeover. He explained that the army had taken him and his wife away from their home in Khartoum and had moved them to an unknown location.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern over reports that security services had used sharp ammunition against protesters.
“The United States strongly condemns the actions of the Sudanese military forces,” Blinken said, calling for the re-establishment of the civilian-led transitional government. State Department spokesman Ned Price said U.S. officials had not been able to contact the jailed prime minister.
The United States has stopped $ 700 million in aid. A troika of countries previously involved in mediating Sudanese conflicts – the United States, Britain and Norway – said that “military action represents a betrayal of the revolution, the transition and the Sudanese people’s legitimate desire for peace, justice and economic development.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the detention of civilian leaders was “illegal” and condemned the “ongoing military coup”. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned that Sudan was in danger of returning to repression.
“It would be catastrophic if Sudan went backwards after finally ending decades of repressive dictatorship,” she said. The European Union and the Arab League also expressed concern as the African Union (AU) suspended Sudan’s membership following the military coup.
Al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades, is in prison in Khartoum following a corruption conviction. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against al-Bashir accused of genocide during the Darfur civil war.
A 2019 power-sharing agreement following his fall led to Sudan being ruled by the sovereign council of civilian and military representatives tasked with overseeing a transition to a full-fledged civilian government. Jonas Horner from the think tank International Crisis Group (ICG) called the coup an “existential moment for both sides”.
“This kind of intervention … really puts autocracy back on the menu,” he said.
In recent weeks, the cracks in leadership had grown large. Hamdok had previously described divisions in the transitional government as the “worst and most dangerous crisis” facing the transition. In recent days, two factions of the movement that led demonstrations against al-Bashir have protested on opposite sides of the debate – one group demanding military rule, the other for a complete surrender of power. Tensions have been simmering within the movement, known as the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), but divisions increased after what the government said was a failed coup on September 21 this year.
An FFC leader warned of a “sneaky coup” this weekend during a press conference in Khartoum that was attacked by a mob.
On Monday, the regular JRC appealed for nationwide “civil disobedience.” “We will not accept military rule, and we are ready to give our lives for the democratic transition in Sudan,” said one protester, Haitham Mohamed.
“We will not leave the streets until the civilian government is back,” Sawsan Bashir, another protester, told AFP.