Sudan army head says new PM will be appointed and denies coup

Countries around the world have called for a return to the joint civilian-military transitional government

Sudan's army chief on Tuesday defended a military takeover of the country and said he had tried unsuccessfully to “make every concession” with its transitional government partners.

Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan said the military was forced to act because it feared an “adventurer” would stage a military coup, “shatter everything” and start a civil war.

The office of Abdalla Hamdok said late on Tuesday night the prime minister and his wife had been returned home, where they are staying under heavy security.

Mr Hamdok and senior officials of his government were arrested at dawn on Monday, but Gen Al Burhan on Tuesday said the prime minister was in good health and staying at the general's home.

Gen Al Burhan's TV appearance on Tuesday was the second since Monday, when the military arrested civilian political leaders, suspended parts of the country's transitional constitutional document and declared a nationwide state of emergency.

Gen Al Burhan dismissed the Sovereign Council, the joint military-civilian body he had chaired since its creation in August 2019.

Monday's military takeover led to worldwide condemnation. The US, UN, EU and Middle East states called for an immediate return to the council that has led since the removal of autocrat Omar Al Bashir during mass street protests.

This, he said, was “expected as countries see our actions as a coup – it is not”. He said, the army was simply trying to rectify the path of the transition.

Thousands took to the streets to protest against the takeover. At least seven people were killed and 140 wounded on Monday after soldiers opened fire on rallies outside the military’s headquarters in central Khartoum and other parts of the city.

Gen Al Burhan tried to reassure the public and the West, saying that “we will not be able to build Sudan or go through the transitional period alone … popular participation is essential".

He insisted the military had every intention of handing power to a civilian government and that only the parts of the constitutional declaration about the joint civilian-military leadership had been scrapped.

“We want to bring back to the revolutionaries the possibility of realising their slogans and hopes,” he said.

He promised that it would swiftly create state institutions after a long delay he blamed on politicians.

Gen Al Burhan said a prime minister would be appointed, along with a sovereign council and a cabinet, and that they would better represent all regions of Sudan.

He said there would also be a constitutional court, a supreme judicial council and an assembly to function as a transitional parliament.

On Monday, Gen Al Burhan vowed to hold elections in July 2023, after which the military would hand the reins of power to an elected government.

“We are aiming to see through a transition to a civilian government,” he said on Tuesday.

Mr Hamdok had been missing since his arrest on Monday morning. Gen Al Burhan said the deposed leader was “at my house” but being held “for his own safety".

“No one kidnapped or hurt him,” he said. “He is in good health and once the situation is stable, whether that is today or tomorrow, he will go home to lead a normal life.

“He is a Sudanese patriot whose concerns are identical to ours. He worked silently and alone, but found opposition and barriers from the very political forces he depended on.”

But a statement on Mr Hamdok's office Facebook page dismissed Gen Al Burhan's comments, calling for the the prime minister and his cabinet ministers to be released.

"The claims by the head of the coup that what he did is meant to protect the revolution and the prime minister are not fooling anyone," it read.

"We are confident that the Sudanese people will not be deceived by his honeyed words about correcting the course of the revolution, which belongs to the people who are the ones able to correct and steer it to the supreme interest of the country."

Gen Al Burhan said that all those detained would be released unless there were criminal charges against them, and there would be no denial of their right to participate in political life in future.

However, he made it clear that the next government would be technocratic and would not include politicians, and that those detained had been held because of national security threats.

Monday's military takeover has caused outrage among many in the country where Al Bashir ruled for almost 30 years.

Doctors, teachers, Central Bank employees and other professionals have walked out in a general strike, bringing the country to a standstill as thousands organise street protests.

Civilian members of the deposed administration and several ministries appear to be still loyal to Mr Hamdok, expressing their support for the career UN economist in statements calling for international condemnation.

Mariam Al Mahdi, Mr Hamdok's foreign minister, wrote to her equivalents across the world, saying she rejected the coup, her ministry said.

“What happened in Sudan is a military coup that's rejected and will be resisted by all peaceful means," Ms Al Mahdi wrote.

The Information Ministry, which said it still considered Mr Hamdok to be the legitimate transitional authority, posted on its Facebook page that the military’s action was a crime and that the constitution allowed only the prime minister the right to call a state of emergency.

The Forces of Freedom and Change, a pro-democracy alliance that served as the government's power base and political patron, called for continuing street protests and a campaign of civil disobedience to force the military to step down. The FFC led the 2018-19 protests against Al Bashir.

Khartoum residents on Tuesday continued to barricade roads and retreated to their neighbourhoods after the military opened fire on demonstrators on Monday.

The city appeared to be mostly under lockdown, with very little street traffic. All Nile bridges were closed to traffic. Banks, government offices and stores were closed.

Pedestrians moved cautiously in the city, trying to avoid army checkpoints. Those seen by soldiers were sent back to their districts, where only few shops, bakeries and cafes remained open.

Sulaima Ishaq, a prominent activist who took part in the 2018-2019 uprising, said women and children were taking part in the street protests alongside men.

“They are protesting everywhere across Khartoum, not just outside the army headquarters," Mr Ishaq said. "And they are being shot at, beaten and detained just like they were under Al Bashir.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for an immediate halt to violence against protesters and for the restoration of internet services.

Mr Blinken said the US was co-ordinating with its partners to “chart a common diplomatic approach to address these actions and to prevent them from leading to further instability in Sudan and the region”.

The US State Department said it was suspending $700 million in economic support to Sudan.

Gen Al Burhan said that internet services would be returned “gradually".

The coup came only a month before the military was supposed to hand over the leadership of the council to civilians.

There have been weeks of growing tension between the military and the civilian government after a failed coup attempt last month that made public the long-simmering differences between the two sides.

The dispute swiftly degenerated into insults, with each side blaming the other for Sudan's problems.

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.

Updated: October 27th 2021, 5:14 AM
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