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Security tightens grip in coup-hit Sudan as global pressure bites

Sudanese security forces launched sweeping arrests of anti-coup protesters on Wednesday, tightening the regime's grip while the international community ramped up punitive measures.

Sudanese security forces keep watch as they protect a military hospital and government offices during protests against a military coup overthrowing the transition to civilian rule on October 25, 2021 in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman. – Sudan’s top general declared a state of emergency and dissolved the authorities leading the country’s democratic transition today, after soldiers detained civilian leaders in what the UN condemned as a “coup”. (Photo by AFP)

Sudanese security forces launched sweeping arrests of anti-coup protesters on Wednesday, tightening the regime’s grip while the international community ramped up punitive measures.

The World Bank froze aid and the African Union suspended the East African country over this week’s military takeover.

Armed forces deployed in large numbers after overnight protests saw clashes in the capital Khartoum, when officers fired tear gas and arrested several leading pro-democracy activists, including from Sudan’s largest political party, the Umma Party.

“Police forces have removed all the barricades since Wednesday morning and arrested all the people who stood near them,” said Hady Bashir, a protester, after AFP correspondents saw security forces clear rocks and tyres blocking major streets in Khartoum.

Beyond the capital, protesters have stood their ground to decry the country’s latest military coup, setting up blockades in Port Sudan in the east, Wad Madani to the south, and Atbara to the north.

“Sporadic protests erupt every now and then demanding the government’s return,” said Osama Ahmed, a witness from Wad Madani, about 186 kilometres (115 miles) south of Khartoum.

Since top General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Monday announced the dissolution of the government and declared a state of emergency, thousands of citizens have maintained protests, chanting “No to military rule”.

Shops have remained closed following calls for a campaign of civil disobedience, and pro-democracy movements ratcheted up calls for “million-strong protests” on Saturday.

On Wednesday, the AU called the military takeover in Sudan “unconstitutional” and suspended its membership within the continent wide bloc.

The World Bank later suspended aid to the East African country over the coup.

Analysts had warned that the putsch could put at risk much-needed international assistance unlocked under Hamdok’s government to rescue Sudan’s economy, battered by decades of US sanctions and by mismanagement.

The blows came after Burhan allowed home Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok — who was detained by the military on Monday along with his ministers and civilian members of Sudan’s ruling council — following intense international pressure.

But Hamdok and his wife were returned “under close surveillance,” his office said on Tuesday, while other ministers and civilian leaders remain under full military arrest.

In a joint statement, Western diplomats called for an urgent face-to-face meeting with Hamdok.

“We continue to recognise the prime minister and his cabinet as the constitutional leaders of the transitional government,” read a joint statement by US, UK and Norway, the European Union, and Switzerland.

‘Vengeful’ attacks
The coup comes after a rocky two-year transition outlined in an August 2019 power-sharing deal between military and civilians. Their joint rule followed the ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir on the back of mass protests against his regime.

It was the latest putsch in one of the world’s most underdeveloped countries, which has experienced only rare democratic interludes since independence in 1956.

Burhan who has been Sudan’s de facto head of state since Bashir’s ouster was also a senior general during Bashir’s three-decade long hardline rule, and has the support of Sudan’s much feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

Tensions had long simmered between the civilian and military sides, but divisions peaked after a September 21 “foiled” coup.

Four people were killed and scores wounded on Monday when soldiers opened fire on protesters, according to an independent doctors’ union.

Violence against protesters has mounted in a “vengeful” crackdown by security forces, said the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella of unions which were instrumental in the anti-Bashir protests.

Late Tuesday, security forces arrested Sedeeq Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, the Umma party deputy, and took him to “an unidentified location”, his family said.

‘Serious consequences’
Internet services have largely been blocked. But Khartoum airport, which has been closed to flights, is set to reopen on Wednesday afternoon, the civil aviation authority said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Hamdok on Tuesday, the State Department said, welcoming the prime minister’s return home from custody but expressing “deep concern” about the takeover and reiterating US support for a civilian-led democracy.

Washington has suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in aid over the coup.

The EU has also threatened “serious consequences” for Sudan’s rulers, including suspension of financial support.

Bashir has been jailed since his ouster in 2019 and convicted of corruption. He is separately on trial for the 1989 Islamist-backed coup which brought him to power, and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide in the civil war in Darfur.

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