Sudan's leading general declared a state of emergency on Monday, hours after his forces arrested the acting prime minister and disrupted the internet in an apparent coup as the country was nearing a planned transition to a civilian leadership. In a televised address, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan announced that he was dissolving the country's ruling Sovereign Council, as well as the government led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
He said quarrels among political factions prompted the military to intervene but he pledged to complete the country's democratic transition, saying a new technocrat government would lead Sudan to elections.
In response to the moves, thousands flooded the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and its twin city of Omdurman to protest the apparent military takeover. Footage shared online appeared to show protesters blocking streets and setting fire to tires as security forces used tear gas to disperse them.
Protesters could be heard chanting, “The people are stronger, stronger” and “Retreat is not an option” as plumes of smoke filled the air. Videos on social media showed large crowds crossing bridges over the Nile to the center of the capital.
At least 12 protesters were wounded in demonstrations, according to the Sudanese Doctors Committee, without giving details.
A takeover by the military would be a major setback for Sudan, which has grappled with a stop-and-go transition to democracy since long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled by mass protests two years ago. The moves come less than a month before Burhan was expected to hand the leadership of the ruling transitional council to a civilian. The Sovereign Council, which has run the country since shortly after al-Bashir's ouster, includes both military and civilian members, who have frequently disagreed over Sudan's course and the pace of the transition to democracy.
The United States and the European Union expressed concern over Monday's developments. Jeffrey Feltman, the US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, said Washington was “deeply alarmed” by the reports. Feltman met with Sudanese officials over the weekend in an effort to resolve the growing dispute between civilian and military leaders. EU foreign affairs chief Joseph Borrell tweeted that he's following events with “utmost concern”.
The first reports about a possible military takeover began trickling out of Sudan before dawn on Monday. By mid-morning, the Information Ministry confirmed that the prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, had been arrested and taken to an undisclosed location. Several senior government figures were also detained, the ministry said in a Facebook post. It said their whereabouts were unknown.
Hamdok's office said in a statement on Facebook that he and his wife were detained early Monday as part of what it described as a “complete coup”. In other hallmarks of a takeover, internet access was widely disrupted and the country's state news channel played patriotic traditional music. At one point, military forces stormed the offices of Sudan's state-run television in Omdurman and detained a number of workers, the Information Ministry said.
Monday's apparent takeover came after weeks of rising tensions between Sudan's civilian and military leaders. A failed coup attempt in September fractured the country along old lines, pitting more conservative Islamists who want a military government against those who toppled al-Bashir in protests. In recent days, both camps have taken to the street in demonstrations.
After the September coup attempt, the generals lashed out at civilian members of the transitional power structure and called for the dissolution of Hamdok's government. The Sovereign Council is the ultimate decision maker, though the Hamdok government is tasked with running Sudan's day-to-day affairs.
Burhan, who leads the council, warned in televised comments last month that the military would hand over power only to a government elected by the Sudanese people. His comments suggested he might not stick to the previously agreed timetable, which called for the council to be led by a military figure for 21 months, followed by a civilian for the following 18 months. Under that plan, the handover was to take place sometime in November, with the new civilian leader to be chosen by an alliance of unions and political parties that led the uprising against al-Bashir.
After news of the arrests spread, the country's main pro-democracy group and two political parties issued appeals to the Sudanese to take to the streets. One of the factions, the Communist Party, called on workers to go on strike in an act of mass civil disobedience after what it described as a “full military coup” orchestrated by Burhan.
US urges Sudan's military to 'stand down'
The United States says the leaders of the military coup in Sudan are undermining the country's transition to democracy and should “stand down”. The US Embassy in Sudan said it calls on “all actors who are disrupting Sudan's transition to stand down, and allow the civilian-led transitional government to continue its important work to achieve the goals of the revolution”.
French President Emmanuel Macron added his voice to the growing global concern over the military coup underway in Sudan. “France condemns in the strongest terms the attempted coup d'état,” Macron tweeted, after Sudan's leading general declared a state of emergency and dissolved the civilian government.
Macron said France supports the transitional government that had been tasked with steering Sudan toward democratic elections. He also called for the “immediate release” of Sudan's prime minister and other civilian leaders who have been detained.
Meanwhile, China has urged a dialogue between Sudanese factions. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that China wanted all parties in Sudan “to resolve their differences through dialogue so as to maintain peace and stability of the country”. He told reporters that China would continue to closely follow the turbulence in Sudan and “take necessary measures to ensure the safety of Chinese institutions and personnel there”. China is a major investor in Africa.