Crowds protested into the night in Sudan Monday to denounce a military coup, with chaos engulfing the capital Khartoum after soldiers opened fire on demonstrators and reportedly killed three people.
Sudan’s top general declared a state of emergency and dissolved the government — one of several similar takeovers in Africa this year — sparking swift condemnation from the US, which suspended aid and urged that civilian government be restored.
The UN demanded the prime minister’s “immediate release” and diplomats in New York said the Security Council was expected to meet to discuss the crisis on Tuesday.
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s announcement came after the armed forces detained the civilian leaders who have been heading the transition to full civilian rule following the April 2019 overthrow 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.
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 about 80 people wounded when soldiers opened fire, according to the independent Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.
“Civilian rule is the people’s choice,” chanted the demonstrators, who waved flags and used tyres to create burning barricades.
The violence outside the army headquarters came after soldiers detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, ministers in his government and civilian members of the ruling council, the information ministry said.
Internet services were cut across the country and roads into Khartoum shut, before soldiers stormed the headquarters of the state broadcaster in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, the ministry said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement the detention of the civilian leaders was “unlawful” and condemned “the ongoing military coup d’etat”.
The European Union, African Union and Arab League also expressed concern, while the United States, which has been a key supporter of Sudan’s transition, said it had suspended $700 million in aid.
“The civilian-led transitional government should be immediately restored,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, adding that the US had not been able to contact the detained prime minister.
A 2019 power-sharing deal saw Sudan 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.
Hamdok had previously described splits in the transitional government as the “worst and most dangerous crisis” facing the transition.
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 said.
Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades, is in jail in Khartoum following a conviction for corruption.
He is wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of genocide over the civil war in Darfur.
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.
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 (FFC), but divisions ratcheted up after what the government said was a failed coup on September 21 this year.
One FFC leader warned of a “creeping coup” on the weekend at a news conference in Khartoum that was attacked by a mob.
On Monday, the mainstream FFC appealed for nationwide “civil disobedience”.
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 one demonstrator, Haitham Mohamed.
“We will not leave the streets until the civilian government is back,” Sawsan Bashir, another protester, said.