Sudan's military enforces crackdown with arrests and sackings

Khartoum residents describe violent scenes on the streets of the capital

Sudan's military, led by Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, pressed ahead with a campaign of arrests and sackings on Thursday, rounding up key activists, firing ambassadors in western capitals and forcing employees of the official news agency out of their offices.

The moves came as the international community responded to the coup by intensifying calls for the return of the transition to democratic rule, the release of politicians and a suspension of aid to the impoverished nation.

Street protests continued on Thursday for the fourth consecutive day, with the districts of Burri and Khartoum North the sites of most of the action.

Police used tears gas and rubber-coated bullets to try to disperse the crowds there. At least one person was killed in Khartoum North, said a doctors' association linked to the pro-democracy movement.

The death toll is now nine since the protests began on Monday, the day the coup was announced. At least 170 have also been injured.

Also on Thursday, the UN Security Council called on Sudan’s military leaders to restore the civilian-led transitional government and immediately release all those detained after the military takeover.

It expressed “solidarity” with the Sudanese people and affirmed its readiness “to support efforts to realise Sudan’s democratic transition” and the people's aspirations “for an inclusive, peaceful, stable, democratic and prosperous future".

US President Joe Biden expressed “serious concern” over the takeover, which he called a grave setback, and called on Sudanese military authorities to restore the “civilian-led transitional government".

“I urge Sudan’s military leaders to immediately release all those detained and restore the institutions associated with the transitional government in line with the 2019 constitutional declaration and the 2020 Juba peace agreement,” Mr Biden said.

The military coup derailed the transition to democratic rule two and a half years after a popular uprising forced the military to oust dictator Omar Al Bashir.

The generals and the pro-democracy alliance behind the uprising signed a power-sharing deal under which a military-civilian government was created in August 2019.

Gen Al Burhan dissolved the civilian-led government, first detaining Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in a military centre and later placing him under house arrest.

His Cabinet ministers are being detained at an unknown location, along with civilian members of the Sovereign Council the general had chaired since 2019.

Gen Al Burhan declared a state of emergency and vowed to appoint a government of technocrats to run Sudan under the military’s control until elections in July 2023. He also fired all provincial governors.

Arbitrary arrests

After Monday’s takeover, residents of Sudan’s capital described scenes of security forces beating protesters with whips and sticks, arbitrary arrests and intrusive checks of pedestrians and cars.

In the district of Burri, a hotbed of dissent since the 2018-2019 anti-Al Bashir revolt, hundreds of protesters fought street battles with security forces on Wednesday night, with youths pelting them with rocks and the soldiers responding with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Similar clashes occurred in the district of Khartoum North, as security forces moved to dismantle street barricades set up by protesters.

Eyewitnesses, recounting Wednesday night's protests, said thousands gathered outside the military headquarters, chanting "Freedom, peace and justice" – the main slogan of the anti-Al Bashir uprising – and "Burhan, give it up."

They said soldiers guarding the spot where the crowd assembled pulled back and later shots and tear gas were fired at the protesters before soldiers started beating them with sticks.

"There was a stampede as the bullets and tear-gas shells rained down on us," said Tareq Ali, a father of three who took part in the protest.

"We were peacefully listening to protest leaders speaking, not trying to storm the headquarters, when they attacked us."

Mr Ali's account was confirmed by another protester, Mosaab Shereef, from the Khartoum Nile island of Tuti.

"Many of us were injured from the bullets and the tear gas," he said. "People were also injured in the stampede."

Khartoum resident Ayman Kamoon, 34, said a 19-year-old student who was shot in the back by security forces during the protests at the Kobar district, died on Wednedsay night in hospital.

"He and other youths were chased from the main road into side streets by the soldiers," Mr Kamoon said. "The gunshot he received in one of his lungs is what killed him."

Mohammed Anwar's funeral was held on Thursday morning, he said.

Pick-up trucks with armed men in civilian clothes and ski masks roamed the capital, stopping to run random identity checks on pedestrians, particularly youths, and demanding to be shown the contents of their mobile phones.

Those found to have video footage or photos of clashes on their phones were beaten and detained, residents said.

The soldiers and plainclothes security men have also been beating youths with sticks and lashing them with whips as they patrol the streets. Women, children and elderly men have not been spared, according to the residents.

Pool of blood

A video widely shared on social media showed a young man lying motionless on the street in a pool of blood. Voices can be heard in the video saying he was shot by soldiers.

Another shows a scuffle between protesters and a bearded man trying to remove rocks used to block a road. Others show women chanting against the military and tyres set on fire.

While the authenticity of these videos could not be independently verified, the footage supports witness accounts of the protesters' actions.

Late on Wednesday, the Information Ministry, which is loyal to Mr Hamdok’s government, said security forces were increasing their effort to control the capital.

“Neighbourhoods and streets have been blockaded by armoured vehicles and men carrying rifles,” the ministry said.

Also on Wednesday, security forces stormed the offices of the official Sudan News Agency in central Khartoum, sending everyone in the building home. No reason was immediately known for their action.

The security forces also stormed Khartoum University’s halls of residence looking for protesters. Video clips posted online purported to show students bleeding after soldiers had beaten them with sticks.

Soldiers have been stopping cars to search them and check their occupants.

Pedestrians crossing Nile bridges linking the capital’s three boroughs – Khartoum, Bahari and Omdurman – are subject to stricter searches and are asked about their destination and the reason for leaving home.

Protests spread to the cities of Atbara, north of Khartoum, Port Sudan in the east on the Red Sea and Wad Madani, south of the capital.

But the military’s blocking of the internet since Monday appears to have hampered efforts to mobilise and co-ordinate street protests, leaving neighbourhood resistance committees with the task of local organisation.

In what may be a test of the resistance’s strength in the face of the military, the Association of Professionals’ Unions, which was at the forefront of the 2018-2019 uprising, has called for a “march of millions” on Saturday.

A huge turn-out like that of October 21 when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to support the government, could be a game changer in the struggle between the military and the pro-democracy movement in the Afro-Arab country.

The military authorities meanwhile continue to sack officials who publicly opposed the coup. These included Sudan’s ambassadors to Geneva, Brussels, Washington, Beijing and Paris, who were fired on Wednesday.

Ali Al Gindi, Sudan’s ambassador to Switzerland and representative at the UN European headquarters in Geneva, said his dismissal was illegal and unconstitutional.

“I will not obey it and will fight it through all legal means until the legitimate government is restored,” he said.

The authorities also sacked the head of the Civil Aviation authority, Ibrahim Adlan, just hours after he announced that Khartoum’s only international airport had reopened after a three-day closure. The head of state television was also fired.

The civil disobedience called for by the Forces of Freedom and Change, the alliance that served as a power base for Mr Hamdok’s government, is steadily gaining steam.

Pilots of the national airline, Sudan Airways, and two other local airlines on Wednesday joined teachers, doctors, pharmacists and central bank employees in their strike.

Schools, universities, banks and government offices are closed. Most retail outlets are closed, except for small shops and bakeries in residential neighbourhoods. Hospitals only deal with emergencies.

Updated: October 28th 2021, 7:57 PM
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