Sudan coup: deposed PM allowed home as general says politicians ‘stir up strife’

Some ministers remain in detention and could face trial for inciting rebellion, says Gen Abdel-Fattah Burhan

Sudan’s deposed prime minister and his wife have been allowed to return home “under heavy security” a day after they were detained in a military coup, as the African Union suspended the country from its organisation citing the “unconstitutional” seizure of power.

The release of Abdalla Hamdok and his wife late on Tuesday to effective house arrest followed international condemnation of the power grab and calls for the military to release all the government officials who were detained when Gen Abdel-Fattah Burhan seized power on Monday.

The statement by Hamdok’s office said other government officials remained in detention, their locations unknown.

Hamdok and his wife were under “heavy security” at home in the upmarket area of Kafouri in the capital, Khartoum, a military official said. The official did not say whether they were free to leave or make calls.

Arrests of prominent critics of the military, however, continued on Wednesday with the detention of Ismail al-Taj, a leader in the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the umbrella group that represents Sudan’s trade unions. The SPA played a key role in mobilising popular protest against the country’s former autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

Also detained was Sediq al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, a leader in Sudan’s largest political party, known as Umma, who is the brother of Mariam al-Mahdi, the foreign minister in the dissolved government.

A third figure, Khalid al-Silaik, a former media adviser to the prime minister, was detained moments after he gave an interview to broadcaster Al Jazeera, according to his wife, Marwa Kamel.

In the interview, he criticised the military’s takeover, calling Hamdok and his government the legitimate administration of Sudan. “What General Burhan did is a complete coup … People will respond to this in the coming days,” al-Silaik said.

The arrests came as protests denouncing Monday’s takeover continued in the capital of Khartoum and elsewhere, and many businesses shut in response to calls for strikes. The coup threatens to halt Sudan’s fitful transition to democracy, which began after the 2019 ouster of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising.

Groups of protesters – in some places, dozens, in others, hundreds – set up barricades of stones on main roads throughout the day. Security forces waded in, chasing demonstrators and dismantling the barriers.

“It looks like a hit and run process, they remove, and we build,” said activist Nazim Sirag.

The coup has prompted international condemnation and mounting financial repercussions with the EU warning late on Tuesday that the new regime faced “serious consequences”, including the withdrawal of financial support. The US has already suspended $700m (£500m) in aid, while the International Monetary Fund said it was following events closely.

On Wednesday, the World Bank suspended its own aid programme to Sudan as its president, David Malpass, said he feared for the “dramatic impact” recent events could have on the country’s social and economic recovery.

The military seized power in a move that was widely denounced abroad. On Tuesday, pro-democracy demonstrators blocked roads in the capital with makeshift barricades and burning tyres.

Witnesses in Khartoum’s northern district of Burri said security forces had fired teargas at protesters blocking a main road in opposition to the coup. At least 10 people have died in the unrest since Monday.

Several western embassies in Khartoum said on Wednesday that they will continue to recognise Hamdok and his cabinet as “the constitutional leaders of the transitional government” of Sudan.

In a joint statement, the embassies of the EU, the US, the UK, France and several other European countries called for the release of other detained officials and for talks between the military and the pro-democracy movement.

Burhan has pledged to hold elections, as planned, in July 2023, and to appoint a technocrat government in the meantime.

But critics doubt the military is serious about eventually ceding control, noting that the coup came just weeks before Burhan was supposed to hand over the leadership of the top ruling body, the Sovereign Council, to a civilian. The council, which was made up of both civilian and military leaders but led by a general, was the ultimate authority in the country, while Hamdok’s transitional government ran day-to-day affairs. Both were dissolved in the coup.

At an emergency meeting of the UN security council on Tuesday, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, urged world powers to unite to confront a recent “epidemic of coups d’etat”. However, the UN’s most powerful body took no action during the closed-door consultations about Sudan, a nation in Africa linked by language and culture to the Arab world.

The coup ends a period of tense power-sharing between civilian and military leaders that has faltered in recent months as negotiations between opposition political factions have broken down.

Hamdok had been held at Burhan’s home, the general said, and was in good health. Of the many other senior government officials detained on Monday, Burhan alleged that some tried to incite a rebellion within the armed forces, saying they would face trial. Others who are found “innocent” would be freed, he added.

In response to the coup the administration of the US president, Joe Biden, announced the halt of $700m in emergency assistance to Sudan and said on Tuesday it was looking at sending stronger signals to the generals.

“They should first and foremost cease any violence against innocent civilians, and … they should release those who have been detained and they should get back on a democratic path,” said Jake Sullivan, the administration’s national security adviser.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, reported that he had spoken to Hamdok on Tuesday, and welcomed his release. Blinken emphasised that the US supported a civilian-led transition to democracy in Sudan, a state department statement said.


Peter Beaumont and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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