KHARTUM – Sudan’s military seized power on Monday, dissolving the caretaker government hours after troops arrested the caretaker prime minister and other officials.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the coup, which threatens the country’s shaky progress towards democracy.
The takeover comes more than two years after protesters forced the ousting of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, and just weeks before the military handed over leadership of the council that governs the African country to civilians.
Thousands of people filled the streets of the capital Khartoum and its sister city Omdurman after early morning arrests of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other officials.
Footage shared online appeared to show protesters blocking roads and setting tires on fire as security forces used tear gas to disperse them.
As plumes of smoke filled the air, protesters could be heard chanting, “People are stronger, stronger” and “Retirement is not an option!” Videos on social media showed large crowds crossing bridges over the Nile towards the center of the capital.
At least 12 protesters have been injured during demonstrations, according to the Sudanese Medical Commission, which did not provide details.
In the afternoon, the head of the army, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, announced on national television that he would dissolve the government and the Sovereign Council, a joint military and civilian body created four months after the fall of al-Bashir to rule the country.
Burhan said disputes between political factions prompted the military to intervene. For weeks, tensions have been mounting between civilian and military leaders over Sudan’s course and pace of transition to democracy.
The general declared a state of emergency and said the military would appoint a technocratic government to lead the country to elections scheduled for July 2023. However, he made it clear that the military would continue to take the reins.
“The armed forces will continue to complete the democratic transition until the leadership of the country is handed over to a civilian and elected government,” he said.
He added that the country’s constitution would be rewritten and a legislature formed with the participation of “the young men and women who made this revolution”.
The Ministry of Information, still loyal to the defunct government, described his speech as “announcing a seizure of power by a military coup”.
The international community expressed concern about developments on Monday.
Jeffrey Feltman, the US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, said Washington was “deeply disturbed” by the reports.
Feltman met with Sudanese officials over the weekend to resolve the growing dispute between civilian and military leaders.
EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell tweeted that he was following events with “extreme concern”.
The UN Political Mission in Sudan has called the detention of government officials “unacceptable”.
The first reports of a possible military takeover leaked from Sudan before dawn on Monday.
The Information Ministry later confirmed that Hamdok and several senior government officials had been arrested and their whereabouts were unknown.
Hamdok’s office denounced the arrests on Facebook as a “complete coup”. His wife was also arrested, he added.
Internet access was largely disrupted, and the country’s national news channel played traditional patriotic music.
At one point, military forces stormed the offices of Sudan’s state television in Omdurman and arrested a number of workers, the information ministry said.
There have been fears for some time that the army is trying to seize power, and indeed there was a failed coup attempt in September.
From there, tensions only grew as the country fractured along old lines, with more conservative Islamists wanting a military regime opposed to those who toppled al-Bashir in the protests. In recent days, both sides have taken to the streets in protests.
After the coup attempt in September, the generals attacked civilian members of the transitional power and demanded the dissolution of Hamdok’s government.
The Sovereign Council is the ultimate decision-maker, although the Hamdok government is responsible for managing the day-to-day affairs of Sudan.