Sudanese coup leader fires civilians as protesters rally again

Sudanese coup leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan sacked the last civilian members of his ruling body on Wednesday as part of his proposed power shift, but protesters who rejected his promise took to the streets again.

“The blood of the martyrs was not shed in vain,” hundreds of women protesters in Khartoum chanted about pro-democracy activists killed in street violence, also demanding the return of “soldiers to the barracks.”

Burhan, who seized power last October in an internationally condemned coup, unexpectedly vowed on Monday to “make room” for civic groups to form a new transitional government.

He also announced that the ruling Sovereign Council, which he chairs, would be dissolved, and apparently in an effort to carry out this process, he issued a decree dismissing five obscure civilian members from their positions.

Some of them told the local press that they had not received official notice and were surprised to find that their official vehicles had been taken away.

The transitional government ousted by Burhan last year was carefully formed between military and civilian factions in 2019 after massive protests that prompted the army to oust longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Sudan’s main civil alliance, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), called Burhan’s latest move a “giant ploy” and a “tactical retreat.”

They also called for “continued public pressure,” a call heeded by protesters who set up makeshift street barricades of rocks and tires for the seventh consecutive day.

‘Wolf in sheep’s clothing’?

The protesters have demanded a restoration of the transition to civilian rule despite repeated crackdowns by security forces who have fired live ammunition, fired tear gas canisters and used water cannons in recent days, according to medics.

Burkhan’s promise on Monday to step down to establish a new civilian “government” was accompanied by another promise – the creation of a new “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.”

He said the body would be responsible for defense and security, fueling opponents’ fears that it would not be accountable to any government.

Burhan said the new body would bring together the regular army and paramilitary operational support forces, a powerful unit commanded by his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

Key FFC member and former rebel Yasser Arman warned that Burhan “intends to elect a prime minister who will be a wolf in sheep’s clothing and obey the orders of the military council.”

Armand said Burkhan’s statement was directed at “the regional and international community, some of whose members are looking for quick fixes,” including those who, he warned, “place stability over democracy.”

The FFC has so far refused to take part in negotiations with the warlords, despite pressure from international mediators, from the United Nations to the African Union and the IGAD regional bloc.

On Tuesday, after an emergency IGAD summit chaired by Burhan in Kenya, the bloc praised efforts to find “long-term solutions to the political situation,” adding that it “appreciated the positive steps” taken by Sudan’s leaders.

“Too early to tell”

Sudan has been rocked by almost weekly protests since the October coup, with thousands marching in various cities.

Pro-democracy medics said nine demonstrators died last Thursday in the deadliest violence this year, bringing the number of people killed in the crackdown to 114 since October.

Burhan’s statement was treated with caution by international players: UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed hope that it would create “an opportunity … to reach an agreement that will ultimately lead to a transition to a civilian-led democracy.”

The United States said it was “too early to tell” the implications, as State Department spokesman Ned Price urged all parties to seek a solution to a “civilian-led government” through “free and fair elections.”

The protesters claim that the army commander has taken such steps before.

In November, a month after the coup, Burhan signed an agreement with Abdallah Hamdok, the prime minister, whom he ousted in a power grab and placed under house arrest, returning him to power.

But many people rejected the pact and took to the streets again, with Hamdok resigning in January, warning that Sudan is “crossing a dangerous turning point that threatens its very survival.”