Africa

Sudan protesters defiant as international community condemns coup

Mass protests in Sudan show strong support for a civilian-led democracy, but analysts warn street demonstrations may have little impact on powerful factions pushing a return to military rule.

Protesters were defiant on the streets of Sudan on Tuesday demonstrating against a military coup, as international condemnation of the country’s security forces ramped up with the UN Security Council expected to meet later.

“Returning to the past is not an option,” chanted the crowds, who remained outside despite soldiers opening fire and reportedly killing at least four people.

On Monday, soldiers detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, ministers in his government and civilian members of the ruling council, who have been heading a transition to full civilian rule following the April 2019 overthrow of autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

The subsequent declaration of a state of emergency and dissolution of the government provoked an immediate international backlash, with the US, a key backer of Sudan’s transition process, strongly condemning the military’s actions and suspending millions of dollars in aid.

The UN demanded Hamdok’s “immediate release”, while diplomats in New York told AFP the Security Council was expected to meet to discuss the crisis on Tuesday.

Internet services cut

Announcing the state of emergency, Sudan’s top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said the army had taken the actions it had “to rectify the revolution’s course”.

Internet services were cut across the country and roads into Khartoum were shut, before soldiers stormed the headquarters of the state broadcaster in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman.

But clashes still erupted in Khartoum after Burhan’s speech.

“Civilian rule is the people’s choice,” chanted the demonstrators, who waved flags and used tyres to create burning barricades.

The information ministry said soldiers “fired live bullets on protesters… outside the army headquarters”.

At least four demonstrators were killed and about 80 people wounded, according to the independent Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern over reports that security services had used live ammunition against protesters.

“The United States strongly condemns the actions of the Sudanese military forces,” said Blinken, calling for the restoration of the civilian-led transitional government.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said US officials had not been able to contact the detained prime minister.

The US has suspended $700 million in aid.

‘Betrayal of the revolution’

A troika of countries previously involved in mediating Sudanese conflicts – the US, UK and Norway – said that “the actions of the military represent a betrayal of the revolution, the transition, and the legitimate requests of the Sudanese people for peace, justice and economic development”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the detention of the civilian leaders was “unlawful” and condemned “the ongoing military coup d’etat”.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned Sudan risked returning to oppression.

The European Union, African Union and Arab League also expressed concern.

Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades, is in jail in Khartoum following a corruption conviction.

He is wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of genocide over the civil war in Darfur.

A 2019 power-sharing deal after his fall saw Sudan ruled by a Sovereign Council of civilian and military representatives tasked with overseeing a transition to a full civilian government.

Jonas Horner from the International Crisis Group think tank called the coup an “existential moment for both sides”.

He said: “This kind of intervention… really puts autocracy back on the menu.”

In recent weeks, the cracks in the leadership had grown wide.

Hamdok had previously described splits in the transitional government as the “worst and most dangerous crisis” facing the transition.

In recent days, two factions of the movement that spearheaded demonstrations against Bashir have protested on opposite sides of the debate – one group calling for military rule, the other for a full handover of power.

Tensions have long simmered within the movement, known as Forces for Freedom and Change, but divisions ratcheted up after what the government said was a failed coup on 21 September this year.

One FFC leader warned of a “creeping coup” at the weekend during a news conference in Khartoum that was attacked by a mob.

On Monday, the mainstream FFC appealed for nationwide “civil disobedience”.

One demonstrator, Haitham Mohamed, said:

We will not accept military rule, and we are ready to give our lives for the democratic transition in Sudan.

“We will not leave the streets until the civilian government is back,” said Sawsan Bashir, another protester.

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