Sudan Military Coup Draws Thousands to the Streets in Protest

Sudan Military Coup Draws Thousands to the Streets in Protest

16:26 - Tensions between the country’s civilian and military leaders have been escalating amid a spiraling economic crisis

Thousands of Sudanese pro-democracy protesters streamed into the streets of the capital on Monday to reject a military coup of the transitional government that has ruled the country since the ouster of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir.

In a statement broadcast on state TV, Sudan’s most senior military leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, declared a state of emergency across the strategic nation on the Horn of Africa and announced the dissolution of the transitional government, which included both civilian and military officials. He said a new caretaker government would soon be appointed to lead the country to elections in July 2023.

The statement followed reports earlier Monday from the Sudanese Information Ministry and several government officials that Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, his wife and other civilian leaders had been detained by the military. The ministry said Mr. Hamdok and the others were taken to an undisclosed location after the prime minister declined to endorse what it said was a military coup.

“We call on the Sudanese people to go out and demonstrate and use all the peaceful means to recover their revolution from any kidnapper,” the ministry said.

Across Khartoum, the capital, protesters erected roadblocks, burned tires and shouted slogans rejecting a return to military rule. Several labor unions called on their members to walk off the job in a show of civil disobedience. Soldiers, police and members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, meanwhile, patrolled bridges and key intersections in the capital.

On its verified Facebook page, the information ministry said soldiers fired live bullets at protesters that had gathered around the military headquarters in Khartoum. The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, one of the groups that participated in the monthslong popular uprising that preceded Mr. Bashir’s 2019 ouster, said at least three protesters had been killed by gunfire and that it was investigating reports of more than 80 others who had been injured.

Private television and radio stations were taken off air, while internet monitoring group NetBlocks reported that fixed-line and mobile connections across Sudan had been disrupted.

The U.S. and the European Union, which have sustained Sudan’s post-Bashir transition both financially and politically, called for the immediate release of Mr. Hamdok and other civilian leaders. “The actions today are in stark opposition to the will of the Sudanese people and their aspirations for peace, liberty and justice,” said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.

The U.S. embassy in Khartoum called on the military to immediately cease all violence and ensure the safety of the protesters. It said all flights out of the country had been suspended and asked American citizens to shelter in place. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. would pause $700 million in planned aid that was aimed at supporting Sudan’s democratic transition and suggested that Washington could resort to sanctions and other punitive measures against those responsible for the violence.

Tensions between civilian and military leaders have been building for several weeks and Mr. Hamdok warned earlier this month that Sudan’s transition to democracy was under threat. Last week, tens of thousands of Sudanese demonstrated in Khartoum and other key cities, demanding that the military hand over control of the country to civilian leaders. Days earlier, a smaller crowd of protesters jumped barricades protecting the presidential palace in Khartoum in what they said was a show of support for a military takeover.

The backdrop to the rising tensions is a spiraling economic crisis in the country of 45 million people. Annual consumer-price inflation has been near 400% for much of the year and the government has warned of shortages of essential goods, including wheat, fuel and basic medicines.

In Khartoum, long lines in front of bakeries and groceries stores have once again become a common sight, which for many Sudanese brought back memories of the sharp increases to the price of bread that sparked the protests against Mr. Bashir in late 2018.

The U.S. and other Western nations have sent hundreds of millions of dollars of support to Sudan, hoping to build it into an anchor of stability in a turbulent region. Almost exactly a year ago, the Trump administration brokered an agreement between Sudan and Israel to normalize relations, a key step for the removal of U.S. sanctions imposed on Khartoum in the 1990s for harboring al Qaeda’s then-leader, Osama bin Laden, and aiding terrorist groups.

Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, had been in Khartoum over the weekend, and in meetings with both Mr. Hamdok and Gen. Burhan sought to find a way forward for the democratic transition.

In June, the International Monetary Fund announced a massive debt-relief deal for Sudan under which more than $50 billion of the country’s external debts would be wiped out over the next three years. But the debt relief came tied to a stringent program of economic overhauls—including the removal of state subsidies and the floating of Sudan’s currency—that boosted opposition to Mr. Hamdok’s government.

Cameron Hudson, a former chief of staff for the Office of the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan who is now with the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, said one important reason for the country’s economic difficulties was the military’s continued control of key revenue-generating sectors, including gold mining, agriculture and construction.

“The international assistance has helped slow the economic decline but it has not been enough to turn the economy around,” he said.

In recent weeks, Sudan’s economic problems have been exacerbated by a blockade of the Port of Sudan, the country’s biggest harbor on the Red Sea, where members of the Beja tribes, who make up around 10% of Sudan’s population, have cut off key access roads. They accuse the government of economic neglect and marginalization, and have insisted they won’t end the blockade to the ports until their demands are met.

Corrections & Amplifications
Sudan’s most-senior military leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said a new caretaker government would soon be appointed to lead the country to elections in July 2023. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said he didn’t provide a timetable for elections when he announced the dissolution of the country’s transitional government.

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