NAIROBI, Kenya – The military detained the Sudanese prime minister early Monday in an apparent coup that threatened northeast Africa’s fragile transition to democracy from authoritarian rule.
The Sudanese Ministry of Culture and Information said in a Facebook post that the combined military had placed Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok under house arrest and forced him to publish a “coup statement.” After refusing to “support the coup,” the ministry said, Mr. Hamdock was transferred to an “unknown location.”
The military also detained several senior cabinet ministers and civilian members of the Transitional Council of Sovereignty, the ministry said.
The arrests came about a month after authorities said they had thwarted a loyalist coup attempt by ousted dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
As news of the arrests spread, protesters filled the streets of the capital Khartoum early Monday morning. People burning tires in Khartoum were shown on television, and the sky was filled with plumes of smoke. The Ministry of Information also said that the internet connection was interrupted and that the military had closed the bridges.
The possibility of a coup d’état has haunted the country’s transitional government since 2019, when Mr al-Bashir was ousted and Sudan was shaken by protests from two factions. One side helped to overthrow Mr. al-Bashir after massive protests, while the other side supports the military government.
On Monday, pro-democracy demonstrators chanted, “The people are stronger. Retreat is impossible. ” Some clapped and the procession of demonstrators grew.
Relations between the leaders of the transitional government, made up of civilian and military officials, were strained. In recent days, pro-war protesters have demanded the dissolution of the transitional cabinet, a move that many pro-democracy groups have condemned as the basis for a coup.
The Sudanese Association of Professionals, the main pro-democracy political group, has warned on social media that the military is preparing to seize power. On Monday, the association called on residents to take to the streets to confront the so-called “military coup”.
“A revolution is a revolution of the people,” said the group, made up of organizations of doctors, engineers and lawyers, in a statement. “Power and wealth belong to the people. No military coup. “
As the protests intensified on Monday, NetBlocks, an Internet monitoring organization, said there was a “major disruption” to Internet services in the country. This violation, he said, “is likely to restrict the free flow of information on the Internet and news coverage of incidents on the ground.”
For months, the country has been shaken by political uncertainty and troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and the Sudanese economy is in a precarious state with rising unemployment and rising food and commodity prices across the country.
The Army Chief of Staff was expected to hand over leadership of the transitional cabinet to Mr. Hamdok in November, which would give him a largely ceremonial post, but one that would mean full civilian control of Sudan for the first time in decades. …
Jeffrey Feltman, United States Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, met with the Sudanese Prime Minister on Saturday local time and reaffirmed the Biden administration’s support for the transition to civil democracy.
On Monday, Mr Feltman said the United States is “deeply disturbed by reports of a military takeover by the transitional government.”
“It would be contrary to the Constitutional Declaration and the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people and is completely unacceptable,” Mr. Feltman said in a statement. “As we have stated on numerous occasions, any forceful change in the transitional government will jeopardize US aid.”
Following Monday’s arrests, state television aired national patriotic songs, and local news reported that Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the Council of Sovereignty, was to make a statement about the unfolding events.
After President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for almost 30 years, was overthrown in a coup d’état in 2019, the country has started to take minor steps towards democracy, but it has been plagued by unrest and military coup attempts.
His government was replaced by an 11-member sovereign council, composed of six civilians and five military leaders, tasked with preparing the country for elections after a three-year transition period.
The Council appointed Abdullah Hamdok, an economist with several posts at the United Nations, as Prime Minister, and his government immediately embarked on an ambitious program aimed at appeasing pro-democracy demonstrators and reuniting with the international community.
Mr. Hamdok’s government eased decades of strict Islamist policies by repealing apostasy laws and banning public flogging. He also carried out major political and economic renovations. He resumed talks with rebel groups and launched an investigation into the bloody crackdown on the Darfur region under Mr. al-Bashir, promising to prosecute and possibly transfer those wanted for war crimes to the International Criminal Court.
But persistent obstacles to progress remain, including the coronavirus pandemic, stagnant economic growth and ongoing violence in Darfur. Mr Hamdock survived an assassination attempt, and fears of a coup intensified when the country imposed quarantines last year to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Last month, Sudanese authorities said they had thwarted an attempted coup d’état by supporters of Mr al-Bashir. The soldiers tried to seize control of the state media building in the city of Omdurman, across the Nile from the capital Khartoum, but they were stopped and arrested.
Mr Hamdock blamed the failed coup on Bashir’s supporters, both military and civilian, and called it a near miss for the country’s fragile transition to democracy.
The Army Chief of Staff was expected to hand over leadership of the sovereign council to Mr. Hamdok next month – largely a ceremonial post, but also one that signifies full civilian control of Sudan for the first time in decades.
Three years ago, Sudanese protesters protested against the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades after the 1989 coup.
Mr al-Bashir led his country through devastating wars and famines, but it was anger over rising bread prices that sparked the first protests in December 2018. After nearly four months of demonstrations and dozens of deaths at the hands of the Force’s security forces, Mr. al-Bashir was ousted from power in April 2019.
He ruled Sudan longer than any other leader since the country’s independence in 1956, and was considered an outcast in most parts of the world. He hosted Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, leading to US sanctions, and in 1998 a US cruise missile struck a factory in Khartoum over its alleged links to al-Qaeda.
Mr. al-Bashir led a devastating 21-year war in southern Sudan as his troops dropped barrel bombs from airplanes on remote villages. The country finally split in two in 2011, when South Sudan gained independence. But Mr. al-Bashir continued to wage violent conflicts with insurgents in other parts of Sudan.
In addition, he sent thousands of Sudanese soldiers to fight outside the country, including in the Yemeni civil war.
Mr. al-Bashir, 77, has been detained since his dismissal. He has been wanted by an international court in The Hague since 2009 for the atrocities committed by his government in Darfur, where at least 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million displaced during the war between 2003 and 2008, according to United Nations estimates.
The International Court of Justice has pressured the transitional government of the Sudan, which came to power after the ouster of Mr. al-Bashir, to hand him over along with other leaders accused of crimes in Darfur.
Sudanese courts found Mr al-Bashir guilty of money laundering and corruption at the end of 2019 and sentenced him to two years in prison. He continues to face charges in connection with the 1989 coup and, if convicted, could face death or life imprisonment.