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Sudanese stand ground in protests against coup

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KHARTOUM: Angry Sudanese stood their ground on Tuesday in street protests against a military coup which has been condemned internationally, and raised fears for the fate of its civilian prime minister.

But at a news conference on Tuesday the country’s top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok — an international economist who had carved an image as a champion of good governance — was “at my home” and “in good health”, able to return to his own house “when the crisis is over”.

On Monday soldiers detained Hamdok, his ministers and civilian members of Sudan’s ruling council, who have been heading a transition to full civilian rule following the 2019 overthrow of autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

“No to military rule”, “The revolution will go on” and “Returning to the past is not an option”, protesters chanted, a day after the armed forces seized power and shot dead at least four people.

Burhan’s declaration of a state of emergency and dissolution of the government provoked an immediate international backlash. The United States, a key backer of Sudan’s transition, strongly condemned the military’s actions and suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

The UN demanded Hamdok’s “immediate release”, while diplomats in New York told AFP the Security Council was expected to meet to discuss the crisis on Tuesday. Announcing the state of emergency on Monday, Burhan said the army took action “to rectify the revolution’s course”.

Sudan’s ambassadors to Belgium, France and Switzerland did not see it that way. They announced their defection on Tuesday. They condemned the coup and declared their diplomatic missions as “embassies of the Sudanese people and their revolution”, according to the information ministry.

Despite the previous day’s deadly violence, protesters remained on the streets of Khartoum overnight and into Tuesday. Shops around the capital were shuttered following calls for a campaign of civil disobedience.

“We will only leave when the civilian government is restored,” said 32-year-old demonstrator Hisham al-Amin. Clashes erupted in Khartoum after Burhan’s speech on Monday. Internet services were cut across the country and roads into Khartoum were shut, before soldiers stormed the state broadcaster in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman.

It was the latest coup in one of the world’s most underdeveloped countries, which has experienced only rare democratic interludes since independence in 1956. Analysts said the generals are trying to maintain their historic control.

Demonstrators blocked streets with burning tyres and bricks, and marched waving the Sudanese flag and chanting anti-coup slogans.

The information ministry said soldiers “fired live bullets on protesters… outside the army headquarters”. Along with at least four deaths, at least 80 demonstrators were wounded, said the independent Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern over the reported use of live ammunition against protesters. State Department spokesman Ned Price said US officials had been unable to contact the prime minister.

A 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 transition, and the legitimate requests of the Sudanese people for peace, justice and economic development”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the detention of the civilian leaders was “unlawful” and condemned “the ongoing military coup d’etat”.

The European Union, African Union and Arab League also expressed concern. Meanwhile, suggestions by Sudan’s top general on Tuesday that the prime minister was not detained failed to convince the United Nations or the premier’s office, as both demanded his immediate release.

The European Union threatened Tuesday to suspend financial support for Sudan if the military does not immediately return the civilian government to power. “This attempt to undermine Sudan’s transition to democracy is unacceptable. If the situation is not reversed immediately, there will be serious consequences for the EU’s commitment, including its financial support,” EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell warned in a statement.

The EU could also impose targeted sanctions against those behind the coup, notably Sudan’s top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan whose junta is accused of detaining Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The 27-member EU condemned the imposition of a state of emergency in the poor African nation and demanded the immediate release of Hamdok and other top officials.

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