Sudan: protesters force their way through to presidential palace gates

Demonstrators commemorate third anniversary of uprising against former ruler, as pressure mounts on Sudan's military and prime minister

Tens of thousands of Sudanese protesters braved tear gas and stun grenades to force their way through lines of troops and police to the gates of the presidential palace in central Khartoum on Sunday, witnesses said.

The demonstrators are protesting against a military coup in October and demanding that the military leaves politics altogether.

It was not immediately clear if Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, the army chief who led the military takeover, was in the palace at the time.

Also unclear was why the troops and police did not do more to stop the protesters from reaching the palace gates or stop thousands more who forced their way across Nile bridges that have been closed by authorities.

But a fresh batch of police arrived later outside the palace and used tear gas on the protesters there, dispersing most of them.

Sudanese protesters scatter from tear gas fired by security forces near the presidential palace in Khartoum during a rally to mark three years since the start of mass demonstrations that led to the removal of autocrat Omar Al Bashir. AFP

The protesters were marking the third anniversary of the start of the uprising that forced the generals to remove former president Omar Al Bashir in April 2019.

Behind Sunday's rallies are the Forces for Freedom and Change, the Sudanese Professionals' Association and the Resistance Committees that engineered the protests against Al Bashir. They have assumed a similar role since the October military takeover that derailed the country's democratic transition.

There were jubilant scenes outside the palace when demonstrators arrived. Protesters hugged soldiers and posed for photos with them as they sat on armoured vehicles. Some soldiers broke down and cried. Others chanted: “The army belongs to the people, not to Burhan.”

Protesters shouted: “Burhan, you can close off a bridge or a street, but we are still coming directly for you.”

Security forces had sealed off roads leading to the palace from at least two kilometres away. Roads leading to the armed forces' headquarters had also been closed, with troops and police stationed at concrete barriers and barbed wire.

Sunday's rallies are the latest in a string of street protests triggered by the October 25 military takeover that left at least 45 protesters dead and hundreds injured, and plunged the country into a political crisis that, according to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, endangers Sudan’s unity and stability.

The authorities had also blocked all but two of the Nile bridges connecting Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri, hoping that this would isolate each of the Sudanese capital’s three districts and prevent the formation of one large gathering at the heart of Khartoum.

A protester throws tear gas canisters back at security forces during a rally to mark three years since the start of mass demonstrations that led to the removal of leader Omar Al Bashir, in the capital Khartoum. AFP

Hundreds of troops and police were stationed on the bridges to prevent anyone from trying to cross, witnesses said.

But as pressure by the protesters mounted, security troops on the bridges and in central Khartoum stepped aside, according to the witnesses, allowing the protesters to reach the gates of the palace.

The protesters carried the red, green, white and black flags of Sudan and chanted slogans against the military.

“The revolution belongs to the people, the soldiers must return to their barracks,” they screamed.

Protesters also carried banners bearing images of some of the 45 protesters killed since October 25.

One banner read: “A revolutionary may die, but the idea of revolution never dies.”

Sudan's Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan has pledged to guide the nation through its transition to democratic rule. AFP

Video footage shared online showed protests in cities to the West, north and east of the capital.

The October 25 takeover derailed Sudan's democratic transition and ended a partnership with the civilian pro-democracy movement behind Al Bashir’s removal. Mr Hamdok was placed under house arrest and his civilian-led government was dismissed.

Gen Al Burhan also declared an indefinite, nationwide state of emergency and said the military would be the chief and only guardian of the democratic transition.

A November 21 agreement to release Mr Hamdok from house arrest and reinstate him has failed to resolve the crisis and has, instead, fuelled the protests.

To the protesters, the deal transformed the prime minister from a symbol of the nation’s hopes and aspirations to a man who betrayed the December Revolution and became beholden to the generals.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has called for a new political agreement for the remainder of the transitional period before elections. Reuters

“Today, we face a major setback to the path of our revolution that threatens the country’s security, unity and stability; and could be the beginning of a slide into an abyss that will leave us with neither a nation nor a revolution,” Mr Hamdok, a career UN economist before becoming prime minister, said on the eve of the anniversary.

He also called for a new political agreement to serve as a blueprint for the remainder of the transitional period before elections, promised for 2023.

“I want on this occasion to renew my invitation to all revolutionary forces and all those who believe in a civilian democratic transition to agree to a political covenant that addresses the deficits of the past and achieves the remainder of the revolution’s goals,” he said.

He repeated his assertion that he agreed to the November 21 deal to stop the bloodshed, protect the progress made over the past two years and stop Sudan from returning to the international isolation it suffered under Al Bashir’s 29-year rule.

Gen Al Burhan also issued a statement marking the anniversary, in which he repeated pledges to shepherd the nation through its transition to democratic rule.

Pro-democracy activists hold the military and allied militias responsible for the killing of protesters since the takeover. They also accuse them of killing more than 100 protesters in June 2019, when security forces broke up a sit-in protest outside the military headquarters in central Khartoum.

Transition at risk

Gen Al Burhan has repeatedly said that the military was investigating the post-October killings, but details including who is probing the violence or when the findings will be released are unknown.

An investigation into the June 2019 killings has stalled, with activists claiming the military stopped it from publishing its findings over fears they would incriminate the army's top brass.

Sudan’s political crisis is playing out against a backdrop of economic problems and a worsening security situation in the western region of Darfur, where ethnic tensions remain unresolved more than a decade after a war in the region ended.

The takeover sparked strong international condemnation and the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid needed to help Sudan overhaul its battered economy. The African Union has also suspended Sudan’s membership.

On Thursday, the US, the UK, the UAE and Saudi Arabia said they were “encouraged” by the November 21 deal as “a first step” to resolving Sudan’s political crisis and putting the country’s transition back on track.

The quartet also urged the Sudanese authorities to lift the state of emergency declared by Gen Al Burhan, stressing “the importance of the early publication of a credible road map towards elections in late 2023 or early 2024".

Updated: December 20th 2021, 4:48 AM