New clashes shake the capital of Sudan; UN urges restoration of civilian rule

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudanese security forces fired tear gas on Thursday to disperse protesters angered by a military coup that derailed a fragile transition to democracy and sparked an international outcry.

While street violence rocked Khartoum for a fourth day, the United Nations Security Council called on Sudan’s new military rulers to restore the civilian-led government they toppled on Monday.

The council, in a unanimously approved statement, expressed “serious concern” over the army’s seizure of power in the poverty-stricken northeastern African nation and urged all parties to “engage in dialogue without preconditions.”

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s de facto leader since the 2019 ouster of veteran autocrat Omar al-Bashir after huge youth-led protests, dissolved the country’s fragile government on Monday.

While the civilian leader, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, has been under effective house arrest, the capital has been rocked by days of unrest and is preparing for large demonstrations on Saturday.

Roads have been blocked by barricades of rocks, debris and burning car tires that have sent black smoke into the sky, while most shops have been closed in a campaign of civil disobedience.

Sudanese security forces stand guard as they guard a military hospital and government offices during protests against a military coup that toppled the transition to civilian rule on October 25, 2021, in the twin city of Omdurman, the capital. (AFP)

“We don’t want military power, we want a free democratic life in this country,” said one protester, who asked not to be named.

Grip at home

Local morgues reported the deaths of at least seven protesters on Monday, and an unspecified number of bodies have since been turned over, health officials say.

The latest street clashes on Thursday shook the restless Burri district in eastern Khartoum, AFP journalists said.

The coup was the last to hit the country, which has experienced only rare democratic interludes since independence in 1956.

The World Bank and the United States have frozen aid and denounced the army’s takeover, while the African Union has suspended Sudan’s membership for what it called an “unconstitutional” takeover.

The United States, the European Union, Britain, Norway and other nations in a joint statement emphasized their continued recognition of the “prime minister and his cabinet as the constitutional leaders of the transitional government.”

Sudan’s Army Chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan holds a press conference at the Armed Forces General Command in Khartoum on October 26, 2021 (Ashraf Shazly / AFP).

Sudan has been ruled since August 2019 by a joint civil-military council, along with the Hamdok administration, as part of a transition to full civilian rule.

In recent years, the country, previously blacklisted by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism, has moved toward rejoining the international community, hoping to boost aid and investment.

But analysts had said that the role of civilians receded before the coup, which experts see as the way that generals have long held control of the country.

Tear gas, rubber bullets

Recalling the massive protests of 2019, Sudan’s pro-democracy movements have called for “protests of a million people” on Saturday, further intensifying tensions.

A protester on Thursday described the game of cat and mouse with security forces, saying that “they have been trying since yesterday morning to remove all of our barricades, firing tear gas and rubber bullets.”

“But we go and rebuild them as soon as they leave,” added the activist, Hatem Ahmed, from Khartoum. “We will only remove the barricades when the civilian government is back.”

Sudanese protesters burn tires to block a road on 60th Street in the capital Khartoum, to denounce the overnight arrests by the army of members of the Sudanese government, on October 25, 2021. (AFP)

Burhan, a high-ranking general during Bashir’s three-decade hardline rule, has fired six Sudanese ambassadors, including those from the United States, the EU, China and France, who have criticized his actions.

Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, whose father was the prime minister ousted by Bashir’s coup in 1989, is one of the few civilian leaders who is not in detention and has become a leading critical voices.

On Thursday, he praised the 30 diplomats who have opposed the inauguration, saying that “any free ambassador who opposes the coup is a victory for the revolution.”

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