CAIRO (AP) – Military forces arrested Sudan’s interim prime minister and other senior officials on Monday, disrupted internet access and blocked bridges in the capital, the information ministry said. country, calling these actions a coup.
In response, thousands of people flooded the streets of Khartoum and its sister city of Omdurman to protest the apparent military takeover. Images shared online appeared to show protesters blocking streets and setting tires on fire as security forces used tear gas to disperse them.
The protesters could be heard chanting: “People are stronger, stronger” and “Retirement is not an option!” like plumes of smoke filled the air.
A military takeover would be a major setback for Sudan, which has struggled with a staged transition to democracy since longtime leader Omar al-Bashir was toppled by mass protests ago two years.
These measures come less than a month before the powerful General Abdel-Fattah Burhan handed over the leadership of the ruling transition council to a civilian. The Sovereign Council, which has ruled the country shortly after al-Bashir’s ouster, has military and civilian members who frequently disagree over the course of Sudan and the pace of the transition to democracy.
The United States and the European Union have 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 was following events with “the greatest concern”.
The first reports of a possible military takeover began to emerge from Sudan before dawn on Monday. In the middle of the morning, the Ministry of Information confirmed that the Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, had been arrested and taken to an undisclosed location. Several senior government officials were also arrested, the ministry said in a Facebook post. He said their fate was unknown.
Hamdok’s office said in a statement on Facebook that he and his wife were arrested Monday morning in what he described as a “complete coup”.
Another hallmark of a takeover, Internet access was largely disrupted and the country’s state news channel broadcast traditional patriotic music. At one point, military forces stormed the Sudanese public television offices in Omdurman and arrested a number of workers, the information ministry said.
Monday’s apparent takeover came after weeks of growing tensions between Sudanese 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 streets to demonstrate.
After the September coup attempt, the generals attacked civilian members of the transitional power structure and called for the dissolution of the Hamdok government. The Sovereign Council is the ultimate decision-maker, although the Hamdok government is responsible for managing the day-to-day affairs of Sudan.
Burhan, who heads the council, warned in televised comments last month that the military would only hand power over to a government elected by the Sudanese people. His comments suggest he may miss the previously agreed timetable, which called for the council to be led by a military man for 21 months, followed by a civilian for the next 18 months. According to the plan, the handover was to take place 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.
Since al-Bashir was ousted from power, Sudan has slowly emerged from years of international pariah status. The country was removed from the list of states supporting US terrorism in 2020, opening the door to much-needed foreign loans and investment. But the country’s economy has struggled with the brunt of a number of economic reforms demanded by international lending institutions.
Sudan has suffered other coups d’état since gaining independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956. Al-Bashir came to power in 1989 during such a takeover, who overthrew the last elected government in the country.
Among those arrested on Monday were five senior government officials, according to two officials who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to share information with the media.
Among them, the Minister of Industry Ibrahim al-Sheikh, the Minister of Information Hamza Baloul and Mohammed al-Fiky Suliman, member of the Sovereign Council, as well as Faisal Mohammed Saleh, media advisor of Hamdok. Ayman Khalid, governor of the state containing the capital, was also arrested, according to his office’s official Facebook page.
After news of the arrests broke, the country’s main pro-democracy group and two political parties appealed 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 “complete military coup” orchestrated by Burhan. The Sudanese Committee of Physicians said at least 12 people were injured during protests, without giving further details.