Sudan’s army chief says government was ousted to avoid civil war

Khartoum partly locked down with shops shut and some roads blocked by protesters’ barricades

Protests against the military coup in Sudan continued in the capital Khartoum, on Tuesday. Photograph: EPA

Protests against the military coup in Sudan continued in the capital Khartoum, on Tuesday. Photograph: EPA

 

Sudan’s armed forces chief on Tuesday defended the military’s seizure of power, saying he had ousted the government to avoid civil war, while protesters returned to the streets to demonstrate against the takeover after a day of deadly clashes.

The military takeover on Monday brought a halt to Sudan’s transition to democracy, two years after a popular uprising toppled long-ruling Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Speaking at his first news conference since he announced the takeover, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said the army had no choice but to sideline politicians who were inciting against the armed forces.

“The dangers we witnessed last week could have led the country into civil war,” he said, an apparent reference to demonstrations against the prospect of a coup.

Sudan’s top army general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, speaks during a press conference in Khartoum on Tuesday. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty Images
Sudan’s top army general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, speaks during a press conference in Khartoum on Tuesday. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty Images

Prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was arrested on Monday along with other members of his cabinet, had not been harmed and had been brought to Gen Burhan’s own home, the general said. “The prime minister was in his house. However, we were afraid that he’d be in danger so he has been placed with me in my home.”

Gen Burhan had appeared on television on Monday to announce the dissolution of the Sovereign Council, a body set up after Bashir’s overthrow to share power between the military and civilians and lead Sudan to free elections.

The Facebook page for the office of the prime minister, apparently still under the control people loyal to Mr Hamdok, called for his release and that of the other civilian leaders.

Mr Hamdok remains “the executive authority recognised by the Sudanese people and the world”, the post said. It added that there was no alternative other than protests, strikes and civil disobedience.

Streets blocked

Western countries have denounced the coup, called for the detained cabinet ministers to be freed and said they would cut off aid if the military did not restore power-sharing with civilians.

Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman across the Nile river were partly locked down on Tuesday with shops shut and plumes of smoke rising from where protesters were burning tyres. Calls for a general strike were played over mosque loudspeakers. Streets and bridges were blocked by soldiers or protester barricades.

Downtown and commercial areas of Khartoum were empty with shops, markets and offices all shut in the city centre.

The only people in the streets apart from protesters were security forces heavily deployed around the presidential palace and ministry of defence.

Some roads were still blocked by barricades erected by protesters made from stones, tree branches and burning tyres. There were small groups of protesters but no leadership to co-ordinate them. Phone networks were patchy.

Images on social media showed renewed street protests on Tuesday in the cities of Atbara, Dongola, Elobeid and Port Sudan. People chanted: “Don’t give your back to the army, the army won’t protect you.”

The military appeared to have underestimated civilian opposition on the street, according to Jonas Horner of the International Crisis Group.

“They haven’t learned their lesson,” he said. “As we saw post the revolution and post-Bashir, the streets were determined and civilians were willing to die for this.”

Western aid

A health ministry official said seven people had been killed in clashes between protesters and the security forces on Monday.

Gen Burhan said the military’s action did not amount to a coup, as it had been trying to rectify the path of the political transition.

“We only wanted to correct the course to a transition. We had promised the people of Sudan and the entire world. We will protect this transition,” he said Burhan. He added that a new government would be formed that would not contain any typical politicians.

Sudan, for decades a pariah under Bashir, has depended on Western aid to pull through an economic crisis in the two years since he was overthrown.

Banks and cash machines were closed on Tuesday, and mobile phone apps widely used for money transfers could not be accessed.

“We are paying the price for this crisis,” said a man in his 50s looking for medicine at one of the pharmacies where stocks have been running low said angrily. “We can’t work, we can’t find bread, there are no services, no money.”

In the western city of El Geneina, resident Adam Haroun said there was complete civil disobedience, with schools, stores and gas stations shut. – Reuters