Two protesters were killed and 80 wounded after Sudanese security forces opened fire on crowds that flooded the streets of Khartoum after a coup on Monday, the Sudan Doctors’ Committee said.
The takeover comes only weeks before the military was supposed to hand over the leadership of the council that runs the country to civilians and more than two years after protesters ousted long-time autocrat Omar Al Bashir.
In a national TV address, army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan said he was dissolving the ruling military-civilian Sovereignty Council he has chaired since its creation in a power-sharing deal in August 2019.
Gen Al Burhan said a government of “independent” technocrats would be formed to run the country, while the military remains the “guarantor” of the nation's transition to civilian rule.
The reins of power will be handed over to an elected government after elections in July 2023, he said. He also vowed to lead the nation to civilian rule by 2023.
He accused political forces of becoming “power hungry” and a source of incitement for violence, prompting the military to act. “We sensed the grave danger stalking the country,” said the general, who observers say has been showing signs of political ambitions.
Gen Al Burhan paid tribute to the “December revolution”, the anti-Al Bashir uprising of 2018-19 that was engineered by the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) – a pro-democracy alliance that became the political power base of the civilian government and its political patron.
Protesters take to the streets
But his lavish tribute to the revolution found no support on the streets, where thousands of people turned out to protest against the coup that jeopardises the country’s shaky progress towards democracy, burning tyres and chanting revolutionary slogans.
Pro-democracy activists and “resistance committees” in Khartoum distributed timetables for street protests over the next week, with a call for a nationwide protest on Saturday. There were also reports that doctors and teachers have already announced they were going on strike.
“People will go out to the streets and a civil disobedience campaign will begin,” said Sulaima Ishaq, a prominent activist who took part in the 2018-19 protests. “People no longer fear death. In Sudan now, death is no longer a frightening idea but the military is unable to comprehend that.”
The US embassy in Khartoum called on those who were disrupting Sudan's civilian-led transition to stand down, while the European Union urged “all stakeholders” and their regional partners to help place the democratic transition process back on track.
The UN and the Arab League said they were concerned, with the latter calling on all sides to respect the 2019 power-sharing deal between the military and the FFC, which led the protests against Al Bashir in 2018 and 2019 and formed the power base of Mr Hamdok's government.
Monday's coup came after weeks of growing tension between the military and the civilian government, following a failed coup attempt last month that made public the long-simmering differences between the two sides. The dispute swiftly degenerated into mudslinging, with each side blaming the other for Sudan's problems.
The first signs of a coup were detected early on Monday morning when residents of Khartoum said thousands of soldiers were stationed across the capital at dawn and that several key Nile River bridges were closed to traffic. They also reported an internet blackout.
The Information Ministry said soldiers stormed the state radio and TV station in Khartoum's sister city of Omdurman and employees were arrested.
Police spokesman Brig Gen Idrees Suleiman told The National that the city's only international airport was closed to traffic and that Khartoum was “paralysed”.
Sudan's revolution — in pictures
US envoy Jeffrey Feltman was in Sudan at the weekend to meet officials and sat with Gen Al Burhan – their second meeting in as many days – after warning that the collapse of the transition would jeopardise Washington's vital aid to the crisis-hit country.
On Monday, Mr Feltman said he was deeply alarmed by the developments, while UN Sudan envoy Volker Perthes said the military appeared to be in control and warned of "violence and more clashes when night falls".
Sudan's political landscape has been defined by military coups since it became independent 65 years ago, with at least two dozen attempted seizures of power and three periods of military rule lasting a total of more than 50 years.
At the weekend, leaders of the FFC warned of a “creeping” coup and said Gen Al Burhan wanted Mr Hamdok's government to be replaced with one that leaves the military with the final word on policy.
The group also claimed the military was behind a month-long blockade of the country's main commercial seaport on the Red Sea that has caused shortages of bread.
Hundreds of thousands marched in Khartoum and other major cities on Thursday to show their support for Mr Hamdok's government and demand that Gen Al Burhan step down. The military responded to the demonstrations by sealing off the area where its headquarters are located and then surrounding it with concrete barriers.