Sudan coup: Soldiers fire on protesters as military chief dissolves the government

·6-min read
Sudanese protesters burn tyres to block a road in 60th Street in the capital Khartoum, to denounce overnight detentions by the army of members of Sudan's government - AFP
Sudanese protesters burn tyres to block a road in 60th Street in the capital Khartoum, to denounce overnight detentions by the army of members of Sudan's government - AFP

Sudanese armed forces have fired live rounds on people protesting against an apparent military coup in Khartoum, the government said on Monday, as the country's top general dissolved the transitional government.

The news has raised fears that the country is witnessing the first throes of a bloody takeover after the acting prime minister and other senior cabinet figures were detained by soldiers overnight after weeks of tensions between military and civilian figures sharing power since the ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

"Military forces have fired live bullets on protesters rejecting the military coup outside the army headquarters," the Sudanese information ministry said in a statement on Facebook, adding that "casualties are expected".

There were unconfirmed reports that at least 12 people have been injured in clashes with the military.

A wounded protester is taken away on a motorcycle during a protest in Khartoum - UGC via twitter
A wounded protester is taken away on a motorcycle during a protest in Khartoum - UGC via twitter

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads a ruling body that had shared power between the military and civilians, has announced a state of emergency and said the military will now run the country.

"We guarantee the armed forces' commitment to completing the democratic transition until we hand over to a civilian elected government," he added, setting elections for July 2023.

Early on Monday, "joint military forces" forces detained Sudan's acting prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, according to the information ministry.

It added that "after refusing to support the coup", he was taken "to an unidentified location".

Civilian members of Sudan's ruling council and ministers in the transitional government had also been detained, the ministry said in a statement on Facebook.

Internet services were cut across the country and the main roads and bridges connecting with Khartoum shuttered, it added.

Soldiers stormed the headquarters of Sudan's state broadcaster in the capital's twin city of Omdurman, the ministry said, as patriotic songs were aired on television.

People took to the streets, setting tyres ablaze and piling rows of bricks across roads to block them in protest against the military move, an AFP correspondent said.

Demonstrators protest against prospect of military rule in Khartoum last week - Reuters
Demonstrators protest against prospect of military rule in Khartoum last week - Reuters

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," Mr Feltman said on Twitter.

The United Nations described the detentions as "unacceptable".

"I am calling on security forces to immediately release all those unlawfully detained or put under house arrest," said Volker Perthes, chief of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan.

The European Union and Arab League also expressed "concern".

"The EU calls on all stakeholders and regional partners to put back on track the transition process," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell tweeted.

'Military coup'

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.

A person wearing a Sudan's flag stand in front of a burning pile of tyres during a protest against prospect of military rule in Khartoum, Sudan - REUTERS
A person wearing a Sudan's flag stand in front of a burning pile of tyres during a protest against prospect of military rule in Khartoum, Sudan - REUTERS

Sudan has been undergoing a precarious transition marred by political divisions and power struggles since Bashir was toppled in April 2019.

Bashir, who had ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades, is behind bars in Khartoum's high security Kober prison.

The ex-president has been wanted by the International Criminal Court for more than a decade 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 press 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.

Sudanese protesters lift national flags as they rally to denounce the detentions - AFP
Sudanese protesters lift national flags as they rally to denounce the detentions - AFP

Sudan's bankers association and the doctors' union has declared "civil disobedience.

Protesters took to the streets in several parts of Khartoum carrying the Sudanese flags.

"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.

Rival protests

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".

A protester holds a Sudanese flag and chants during demonstrations in support of the civilian government - MOHAMMED ABU OBAID/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
A protester holds a Sudanese flag and chants during demonstrations in support of the civilian government - MOHAMMED ABU OBAID/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Mr Hamdok has previously described the splits in the transitional government as the "worst and most dangerous crisis" facing the transition.

On Saturday, Mr 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, Mr Feltman met jointly with Mr Hamdok, the chairman of Sudan's ruling body General 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.

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