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Death toll rises as Sudanese protest into night against military coup

Sudanese denouncing a military coup have protested into the night after troops rounded up civilian leaders, defying the soldiers who had earlier killed seven people and wounded 140 others when they opened fire, according to the Health Ministry.

Monday’s military move by Sudan’s top general to declare a state of emergency and dissolve PM Abdalla Hamdok’s government –– one of several such takeovers in Africa this year –– sparked swift local outrage and international condemnation.

Sudan’s main opposition coalition called for a peaceful escalation to overthrow the military takeover of government, saying that arrangements are under way to fill the streets with “unprecedented gatherings” of protesters.

The UN Security Council is expected to meet in an emergency closed-door session Tuesday to address the crisis in Sudan, diplomats told the AFP news agency.

The session was requested by Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, and the United States, the diplomats said. The UN has demanded the “immediate release” of the prime minister, while the US suspended $700 million in aid and urged the restoration of a civilian government.

Burning barricades

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s announcement in a televised address came after the armed forces detained government leaders that have been heading the transition to full civilian rule following the April 2019 ouster of autocrat Omar al Bashir, in one of the world’s least developed countries.

“To rectify the revolution’s course, we have decided to declare a state of emergency nationwide… dissolve the transitional sovereign council, and dissolve the cabinet,” said Burhan.

Clashes erupted in the capital Khartoum after his speech, with the information ministry saying that soldiers had “fired live bullets on protesters rejecting the military coup outside the army headquarters.”

“Civilian rule is the people’s choice,” demonstrators chanted.

Protesters waved flags and used rocks and tyres to create burning barricades, calling: “No to military rule”.

The violence, largely centred outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, came after soldiers detained PM Hamdok, ministers in his government and civilian members of Sudan’s ruling council, the information ministry said.

Internet services were cut across the country and roads into Khartoum shut before soldiers stormed the headquarters of Sudan’s state broadcaster in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, the Information Ministry said.

International condemnations 

The power grab by the army was condemned by the international community, including United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who criticised the “unlawful detention” of Hamdok and other leaders.

“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the ongoing military coup d’etat in Khartoum and all actions that could jeopardize Sudan’s political transition and stability,” Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The European Union, African Union, and Arab League also expressed concern, while the United States, which has been a key supporter of Sudan’s transition, said it had suspended $700 million in aid.

“The civilian-led transitional government should be immediately restored,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. He added that Washington had not been able to make contact with the detained prime minister.

‘Existential moment’

Under a 2019 power-sharing deal after the ouster of Bashir, Sudan was ruled by a Sovereign Council of civilian and military representatives tasked with overseeing a transition to a fully civilian government.

But in recent weeks the cracks in the leadership had grown wide.

Hamdok had previously described splits in the transitional government as the “worst and most dangerous crisis” facing the transition.

Jonas Horner, from the International Crisis Group think-tank, called it an “existential moment for both sides”.

“This kind of intervention… really puts autocracy back on the menu,” he warned.

Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades, is in jail in Khartoum following a conviction for corruption.

He is wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of genocide during the civil war in Darfur.

But UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned Sudan risked returning to oppression.

“It would be disastrous if Sudan goes backwards after finally bringing an end to decades of repressive dictatorship,” Bachelet said.

Protest calls

In recent days rival protests were held. Sit-ins outside the presidential palace demanded a return to “military rule”, and in response, tens of thousands marched to back the full transfer of power to civilians.

The two sides represent opposing factions of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the civilian umbrella group which spearheaded demonstrations that led to the army’s overthrow of Bashir.

Tensions between the two sides have long simmered, but divisions ratcheted up after what the government said was a failed coup on September 21 this year.

The developments come two days after the mainstream FFC leader Yasser Arman warned of a “creeping coup”, at a news conference in Khartoum that was attacked by an unidentified mob.

On Monday, the mainstream FFC appealed for nationwide “civil disobedience”.

Protesters were seen marching through the streets of Khartoum carrying the Sudanese flag.

“We will not accept military rule, and we are ready to give our lives for the democratic transition in Sudan,” said one demonstrator, Haitham Mohamed.

“We will not leave the streets until the civilian government is back,” Sawsan Bashir, another protester, told AFP.

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