Sudanese army detains prime minister Abdalla Hamdok

Sudan’s army has detained the prime minister and other ministers in what appears to be a military coup after months of tension within the civilian and military wings of the transitional government.

“The joint military forces, who are holding Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok inside his house, are putting pressure on him to make a pro-coup statement,” said a Facebook post from the Sudanese ministry of culture and media on Monday. “After his refusal to support the coup, a force from the army arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and transferred him to an unknown location.”

The ministry also said “military forces fired live bullets at demonstrators who rejected the military coup” after Hamdok asked the Sudanese people on Monday “to adhere to pacifism and occupy the streets to defend their revolution”.

The transitional government came into power in 2019 after months of civilian protests against the 30-year regime of Omar al-Bashir. Although protesters and civilian officials referred to the toppling of Bashir as a “revolution”, it was the military that ultimately brought his regime to an end.

In recent months, the loose coalition of forces that helped topple Bashir has fractured as economic hardship bites — with inflation running at a calamitous nearly 200 per cent — and the nature of the transition becomes apparent, with pro-military protests and larger civilian counter-protests.

The military and civilian elements of the power-sharing government have been locking horns since a coup attempt in late September. Civilian politicians, led by Hamdok, have accused the military of wanting to grab power and the military has demanded changes in government.

The ministry of culture and media said on Monday internet services had been cut off from mobile phone networks and bridges were closed by military forces. NetBlocks, a group that monitors internet shutdowns globally, confirmed the disruption to services. Nabil Adib, a prominent human rights lawyer in Khartoum, said: “It looks like the army is now in control, but there is no official announcement.”

A government official told the Financial Times the ministry of culture and media had set up an “alternative” way of connecting to the internet and that the ministry’s page was now the “only official channel of information”. This occurred after “military forces stormed the radio and television headquarters” in Omdurman, on the outskirts of the capital. “We knew this was coming, this was a rolling slow coup,” the official said.

The government had undertaken a series of economic reforms designed to revive the near-bankrupt economy, including removing costly fuel subsidies and moving to a more realistic exchange rate. But the resulting hardship added to popular discontent.

Monday’s apparent coup happened in the early hours, not long after the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, left Khartoum where he had met Hamdok, according to US officials.

In a statement on Monday, the US government said it was “deeply alarmed at reports of a military takeover of the transitional government”, which would contravene “the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people and is utterly unacceptable. As we have said repeatedly, any changes to the transitional government by force puts at risk US assistance.”

Multi-party elections were supposed to take place in late 2022. “This will lead the country into a lot of trouble,” said Adib, who still hopes elections can be held next year. “It is sad day, but it is not final.”

In addition to contending with a bankrupt economy, the transitional government has faced the perilous process of easing the military from power. Key figures include General Abdel Fattah Burhan, chair of the sovereign council that is overseeing the transition, and Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, whose break with Bashir in April 2019 was a turning point of the revolution. Hamdan, better known as “Hemeti”, is a former camel trader and warlord who became a militia commander and vice-chair of the sovereign council.

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