Sudan’s top general declared a state of emergency, dissolved the authorities leading country’s democratic transition, and announced the formation of a new government after soldiers detained civilian leaders Monday in what activists denounced as a “coup”.
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s announcement in a televised address came after armed forces detained figures of the government in charge of leading the transition to democracy since the April 2019 ouster of autocratic president 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,” Burhan said.
His statement came as clashes erupted in the capital Khartoum, with soldiers firing live rounds at people who took to the streets to protest against the power grab.
The violence was largely centred outside the army headquarters in the capital hours after soldiers detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, ministers in his government and civilian members of Sudan’s ruling council, the information ministry said.
They were taken away after “refusing to support the coup”, it said on Facebook.
Internet services were cut across the country around dawn and the main roads and bridges into Khartoum shut, before soldiers stormed the headquarters of Sudan’s state broadcaster in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, the ministry said.
People took to the streets soon after, setting tyres ablaze and piling rows of bricks across roads to block them in protest against the military move, an AFP correspondent reported.
“Military forces have fired live bullets on protesters rejecting the military coup outside the army headquarters,” the information ministry said.
Around a dozen people have so far been wounded in the clashes, according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, an independent medics union.
The power grab, which comes after weeks of tensions between the military and civilian figures sharing power since Bashir’s ouster, was condemned by the international community.
The European Union called for the release of the civilian leadership and insisted “violence and bloodshed must be avoided”.
“The EU is very concerned about Sudan’s military forces reportedly putting Prime Minister Hamdok under house arrest, as well as detaining other members of the civilian leadership, and we urge for their fast release,” said European Commission spokeswoman Nabila Massrali.
America’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman said “the US is deeply alarmed at reports of a military takeover of the transitional government”.
“Any changes to the transitional government by force puts at risk US assistance,” he said on Twitter.
The UN described the detentions as “unacceptable”.
“I call on the security forces to immediately release those who have been unlawfully detained or placed under house arrest,” said Volker Perthes, its special representative to Sudan.
The African Union and Arab League also expressed concern.
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.
The developments come two days after a Sudanese faction calling for a transfer of power to civilian rule warned of a “creeping coup”, at a news conference that was attacked by an unidentified mob.
Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades, is behind bars in Khartoum’s high security Kober prison.
The ex-president is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Since August 2019, the country has been led by a civilian-military administration tasked with overseeing the transition to full civilian rule.
But the main civilian bloc — the Forces for Freedom and Change — which led the anti-Bashir protests in 2019, has splintered into two opposing factions.
“The crisis at hand is engineered — and is in the shape of a creeping coup,” mainstream FFC leader Yasser Arman told Saturday’s news conference in Khartoum.
“We renew our confidence in the government, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and reforming transitional institutions — but without dictations or imposition,” Arman added.
Sudan’s bankers’ association and doctors’ union on Monday declared campaigns of “civil disobedience”.
Protesters marched through the streets of Khartoum carrying the Sudanese flag.
“Civilian rule is the people’s choice,” and “No to military rule”, some of them chanted.
“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 and the transition is back,” said Sawsan Bashir, another protester.
Tensions between the two sides have long simmered, but divisions ratcheted up after a failed coup on September 21 this year.
Last week tens of thousands of Sudanese marched in several cities to back the full transfer of power to civilians, and to counter a rival days-long sit-in outside the presidential palace in Khartoum demanding a return to “military rule”.
Hamdok has previously described the splits in the transitional government as the “worst and most dangerous crisis” facing the transition.
On Saturday, Hamdok denied rumours he had agreed to a cabinet reshuffle, calling them “not accurate”.
The premier also “emphasised that he does not monopolise the right to decide the fate of transitional institutions.”
Also on Saturday, Feltman met jointly with Hamdok, Burhan and paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.
“Feltman emphasised US support for a civilian democratic transition in accordance with the expressed wishes of Sudan’s people,” the US embassy in Khartoum said at the time.
Analysts have said the recent mass protests showed strong support for a civilian-led democracy, but warned street demonstrations may have little impact on the powerful factions pushing a return to military rule.