Sudan’s top general declared a state of emergency Monday as soldiers rounded up civilian leaders, with three people killed as soldiers put down furious protests decrying a coup.
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s announcement in a televised address came after armed forces detained government leaders that have been heading the transition to full civilian rule following the April 2019 ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
“To rectify the revolution’s course, we have decided to declare a state of emergency nationwide… dissolve the transitional sovereign council, and dissolve the cabinet,” said Burhan, who announced the formation of a new government.
Clashes erupted in the capital Khartoum after his speech, with the information ministry saying that soldiers had “fired live bullets on protesters rejecting the military coup outside the army headquarters.”
Three protesters were killed and some 80 people wounded as “forces of the military council coup” opened fire to put down the furious demonstrations against the military, according to the independent Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.
“Civilian rule is the people’s choice,” demonstrators chanted, with protesters waving flags and using tyres to create burning barricades. “No to military rule”.
The violence, largely centred outside the army headquarters in the capital, came hours after soldiers detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, ministers in his government and civilian members of Sudan’s ruling council, the information ministry said.
– ‘Autocracy back on the menu’ –
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced the military takeover and called for leaders to be freed.
“I condemn the ongoing military coup in Sudan,” Guterres said. “Prime Minister Hamdok and all other officials must be released immediately.”
Hamdok had previously described splits in the transitional government as the “worst and most dangerous crisis” facing the transition.
Internet services were cut across the country and roads into Khartoum shut, before soldiers stormed the headquarters of Sudan’s state broadcaster in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, the information ministry said.
Under a 2019 power-sharing deal after the ouster of Bashir, Sudan is ruled by a sovereign council of civilian and military representatives tasked with overseeing a transition to a full civilian government.
But in recent weeks the cracks in the leadership had grown wide.
Jonas Horner, from the International Crisis Group think-tank, called it an “existential moment for both sides”.
“This kind of intervention… really puts autocracy back on the menu,” he warned.
The power grab by the army was condemned by the international community, with the European Union calling for the “fast release” of the civilian leadership, and the African Union and Arab League also expressing concern.
US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman said Washington was “deeply alarmed at reports of a military takeover of the transitional government”.
Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades — and is wanted to face charges of genocide during civil war in Darfur by the International Criminal Court — is in jail in Khartoum.
But UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned Sudan risked returning to oppression.
“It would be disastrous if Sudan goes backwards after finally bringing an end to decades of repressive dictatorship,” Bachelet said.
Ahmed Soliman, an analyst from Britain’s Chatham House think-tank, said a military takeover could jeopardise critical donor support for already economically struggling Sudan.
“Sudan’s international partners have made clear all along that their continued engagement is contingent on the political transition moving forward,” Soliman said.
– Protest calls –
In recent days, rival protests have been held, with sit-ins outside the presidential palace demanding a return to “military rule”, and in response, tens of thousands marching to back the full transfer of power to civilians.
The two sides represent opposing factions of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the civilian umbrella group which spearheaded demonstrations that led to the army’s overthrow of Bashir.
Tensions between the two sides have long simmered, but divisions ratcheted up after a failed coup on September 21 this year.
The developments come two days after the mainstream FFC leader Yasser Arman warned of a “creeping coup”, at a news conference in Khartoum that was attacked by an unidentified mob.
On Monday, the mainstream FFC appealed for nationwide “civil disobedience”.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of trade unions which were key in leading the 2019 anti-Bashir protests, denounced what it called a “military coup” and urged demonstrators “to fiercely resist” it.
Protesters were seen marching through the streets of Khartoum carrying the Sudanese flag.
“We will not accept military rule, and we are ready to give our lives for the democratic transition in Sudan,” said demonstrator Haitham Mohamed.
“We will not leave the streets until the civilian government is back,” Sawsan Bashir, another protester, told AFP.