Security forces have clashed with protesters furious over a military coup that derailed a fragile transition to democracy and sparked an international outcry, with the United States and United Nations dialling up the pressure on Sudan’s new military government.
At least one protester was killed on Thursday, according to medics, on the fourth day of confrontations between soldiers and anti-coup protesters in Khartoum, as the UN Security Council called on the military to restore the civilian-led government they toppled on Monday.
The council in a unanimously passed statement expressed “serious concern” about the army power grab in the poverty-stricken Northeast African nation and urged all sides “to engage in dialogue without pre-conditions”.
After the UN Security Council statement, US President Joe Biden said his nation stood with the demonstrators.
“Together, our message to Sudan’s military authorities is overwhelming and clear: the Sudanese people must be allowed to protest peacefully and the civilian-led transitional government must be restored,” he said in a statement.
“The events of recent days are a grave setback, but the United States will continue to stand with the people of Sudan and their non-violent struggle,” said Biden, whose government has frozen aid.
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan – Sudan’s de facto leader since the 2019 overthrow of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir after huge youth-led protests – on Monday dissolved the country’s fragile government.
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 bracing for major demonstrations on Saturday.
Roads have been blocked by barricades of rocks, debris and burning car tyres that have sent black smoke billowing into the sky, while most shops have been shuttered in a campaign of civil disobedience.
“We do not want military power, we want a free democratic life in this country,” one protester, who asked not to be named, told the AFP news agency.
The latest street clashes on Thursday rocked the restive eastern Khartoum district of Burri and the Khartoum North suburb, AFP reporters said.
At least one protester was killed in the clashes in Khartoum North, a doctor’s committee linked to the protest movement said.
The latest death took the number of protesters killed since Monday’s coup to at least eight, up from the toll of seven given by health officials earlier in the day. Some 170 have been wounded.
Tear gas and rubber-coated bullets were fired at the demonstrators on Thursday and witnesses reported several injuries.
The coup was the latest to have hit the country which has experienced only rare democratic interludes since independence in 1956.
The World Bank and the US have frozen aid and denounced the army’s power grab, while the African Union has suspended Sudan’s membership over what it termed the “unconstitutional” takeover.
The US, EU, United Kingdom, Norway and other nations stressed in a joint statement their continued recognition of the “prime minister and his cabinet as the constitutional leaders of the transitional government”.
Sudan had been governed since August 2019 by a joint civilian-military council, alongside Hamdok’s administration, as part of a transition to full civilian rule.
Recent years saw the country – formerly blacklisted by the US as a “state sponsor of terrorism” – make strides towards rejoining the international community, with hopes of boosting aid and investment.
But analysts had said the civilians’ role receded before the coup, which the experts viewed as the generals’ way of maintaining their long-held grip on the country.
Tear gas, rubber bullets
Recalling the mass protests of 2019, Sudan’s pro-democracy movements have called for “million-strong protests” on Saturday, further heightening tensions.
One protester on Thursday described the cat-and-mouse game with security forces, saying that they “have been trying since yesterday morning to remove all 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.”
Al-Burhan, a senior general during al-Bashir’s three-decade-long hardline rule, has sacked six Sudanese ambassadors – including to the US, EU, China and France – who have been critical of his actions.
Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi – whose father was the prime minister deposed by al-Bashir’s 1989 coup – is one of the few civilian leaders not in detention and has become a leading voice of criticism.
On Thursday, she praised the diplomats – 68 according to one of them – who have opposed the takeover, saying that “every free ambassador who opposes the coup is a victory for the revolution”.