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Sudan anti-coup protests defy army, PM held under guard

Furious Sudanese protests against a military coup entered a third day Wednesday, with the prime minister returned home under guard after intense international condemnation of the army's power grab.

Sudanese youths flash victory signs by a roadblock made of buring tyres in the capital Khartoum, on October 26, 2021, as they protest a military coup that overthrew the transition to civilian rule. – Angry Sudanese stood their ground in street protests against a coup, as international condemnation of the military’s takeover poured in ahead of a UN Security Council meeting. (Photo by AFP)

Furious Sudanese protests against a military coup entered a third day Wednesday, with the prime minister returned home under guard after intense international condemnation of the army’s power grab.

But the return to his residence of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok — who was detained Monday along with his ministers and civilian members of Sudan’s ruling council — did little to appease the protests, with police firing tear gas to break them up.

Demonstrations backing the planned transition to civilian rule continued despite security forces arresting several protesters and tearing down makeshift barricades, including clearing rocks and tyres blocking roads in the capital Khartoum, AFP correspondents said.

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

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

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

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

Burhan, who became de facto head of state in 2019 as leader of the joint military-civilian Sovereign Council, 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 ratcheted up after what the government said was a failed coup on September 21 this year.

‘Vengeful attacks’
Four people were killed and scores wounded on Monday when soldiers opened fire on protesters, according to a doctors’ group.

Violence against protesters has mounted, as security forces fired tear gas and launched “vengeful attacks” on protest gatherings nationwide, said the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella of unions which were instrumental in the late 2018-2019 anti-Bashir protests.

Internet services have been blocked. Shops around the capital were shuttered following calls for a campaign of civil disobedience, with the SPA calling for “million-strong protests” on October 30.

But Khartoum airport, which has been closed to flights, is set to reopen on Wednesday afternoon, said the civil aviation authority.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Hamdok 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, a key backer of the transition, has suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in aid as it strongly condemned the transition.

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

‘Betrayal of revolution’
The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting late Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

But before it began UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned “geopolitical divides” were preventing it from taking strong measures.

Before the meeting, Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, said the council “should appeal to stop the violence from all sides”.

Analysts warned that the putsch may risk leaving the country “shunned” and imperil the hard-won international backing to Sudan, which is already struggling amid a dire economic crisis.

Hamdok’s government had this year unlocked international financial assistance, after it was frozen for years under Bashir.

Sudan’s ambassadors to Washington, Belgium, France and Switzerland on Tuesday said they backed the civilian leaders, declaring their diplomatic missions as “embassies of the Sudanese people and their revolution”, according to the Information Ministry.

The troika of countries previously involved in mediating Sudanese conflicts — the US, UK and Norway — said “the actions of the military represent a betrayal of the revolution”.

The African Union and Arab League also expressed concern.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said “it would be disastrous if Sudan goes backwards after finally bringing an end to decades of repressive dictatorship”.

Bashir has been jailed since his ouster in 2019 and convicted of corruption. He is also on trial for the 1989 Islamist-backed coup which brought him to power.

The former strongman is also wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide in the civil war in Darfur.

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