Sudan’s military overthrows president amid bloody protests
A transitional military council will lead the country for two years.
Sudan’s military has overthrown President Omar al-Bashir amid increasingly bloody protests over his repressive 30-year rule and the deteriorating economy.
But pro-democracy demonstrators were left angry and disappointed when the defence minister announced the armed forces will govern for the next two years.
Al-Bashir’s fall comes just over a week after similar protests in Algeria forced the resignation of the North African nation’s long-ruling, military-backed president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Together, the developments represent a second generation of street protests eight years after the Arab Spring uprisings that ousted a number of long-entrenched leaders around the Middle East.
But like those popular movements of 2011, the new ones face a similar dynamic – a struggle over the aftermath of the leader’s removal.
Protest organisers in Sudan quickly denounced the army’s takeover and vowed to continue rallies until a civilian transitional government is formed, raising the possibility of a clash with the military.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators were massed at a sit-in they have held for nearly a week outside the military’s headquarters in central Khartoum, the capital.
After the televised announcement of al-Bashir’s arrest by defence minister Awad Mohammed Ibn Ouf – who is himself under US sanctions for links to atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur conflict – many protesters chanted angrily: “The first one fell, the second will too.”
Some shouted: “They removed a thief and brought in a thief!”
Mr Ibn Ouf said a military council that will be formed by the army, intelligence agencies and security apparatus will rule for two years, after which “free and fair elections” will take place.
He also announced that the military had suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, declared a state of emergency for three months, closed the country’s borders and airspace and imposed a curfew for one month.
#Sudan’s brave people have called for change, but it must be real change. A military council ruling for 2 years is not the answer. We need to see a swift move to an inclusive, representative, civilian leadership. And we need to ensure there’s no more violence.— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) April 11, 2019
📸: @lana_hago pic.twitter.com/UoIdFbTfOb
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for “real change”, saying that a military council ruling for two years “is not the answer”.
He tweeted: “Sudan’s brave people have called for change, but it must be real change. A military council ruling for 2 years is not the answer. We need to see a swift move to an inclusive, representative, civilian leadership. And we need to ensure there’s no more violence.”
Al-Bashir, whose whereabouts were not immediately known, came to power in a coup of his own in 1989, backed by the military and Islamist hardliners.
He kept an iron grip on power and brutally suppressed any opposition, while monopolising the economy through allied businessmen.
Over his three decades in control, he was forced to allow the secession of South Sudan after years of war, a huge blow to the north’s economy.
He became notorious for a brutal crackdown on insurgents in the western Darfur region that made him an international pariah, wanted on genocide charges.
The United States targeted his government repeatedly with sanctions and air strikes for his support of Islamic militant groups.
Throughout, he was a swaggering figure known to dance with his cane in front of cheering crowds.
The street protests that erupted in December were met with crackdowns by the government that left dozens of people dead and eventually turned the military leadership against al-Bashir.
Several times in the past week, army troops trying to protect the rallies exchanged fire with security forces.
The protests were initially fuelled by anger over the deteriorating economy but quickly turned to demands for the president’s removal, and gained momentum last week after Mr Bouteflika’s resignation in Algeria.
Word of al-Bashir’s removal first emerged in the morning, when state TV announced that the military was about to make an “important statement”.
That prompted thousands of protesters to march towards the centre of Khartoum, cheering, singing and dancing in celebration.
The announcement finally came hours later, from Mr Ibn Ouf, a key power figure in al-Bashir’s regime.
“I, the defence minister, the head of the Supreme Security Committee, announce the uprooting of this regime and the seizing of its head, after detaining him in a safe place,” he said.
He denounced al-Bashir’s government for “bad administration, systemic corruption, absence of justice”, adding: The poor became poorer and the rich became richer. Hope in equality has been lost.”
He also said al-Bashir’s crackdown against protesters risked splitting the security establishment and “could cause grave casualties”.
Mariam al-Mahdi, a leading member of the opposition Umma, called the military’s takeover “a dangerous move”.
“Our demands are clear: We don’t want to replace a coup with a coup,” al-Mahdi said.
The protest movement has been a mix of young activists, students, professional unions and traditional opposition parties.
Security forces came down hard from the start, using tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and batons.
Al-Bashir banned unauthorised public gatherings and granted sweeping powers to the police after imposing a state of emergency last month.
After Mr Bouteflika’s fall, the Khartoum protesters launched the sit-in, and the crackdown grew bloodier, with at least 22 people killed since Saturday.