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Sudan coup 2021: Protesters defiant as General Burhan set to address nation

Protesters remain on the streets as US suspends $700m in aid and country's top general prepares to hold news conference
'Returning to the past is not an option,' chanted crowds, who remained in the open despite soldiers having earlier fired on protesters (AFP)

Protesters against Sudan's military coup remained defiant on the streets on Tuesday as officials from the office of the country's top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said he would hold a news conference later in the day.

"General Burhan will speak at a press conference at the army headquarters in Khartoum" from 1pm (11:00 GMT), the officials said.

Despite some demonstrators remaining in the open, Reuters reported that life was mainly at a standstill in the capital Khartoum, where shops and services are closed and some roads are still blocked by the army after a mostly quiet night.

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International condemnation of the country's security forces has continued, as the United States said it was suspending $700m in aid, and the UN Security Council prepared to meet to discuss its response.

"Returning to the past is not an option," chanted the crowds, who remained in the open despite soldiers having earlier fired on protesters, reportedly killing up to seven people.

On Monday, soldiers detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, ministers in his government and civilian members of the ruling council, who have been heading a transition to full civilian rule following the April 2019 overthrow of longtime President Omar al-Bashir.

The subsequent declaration of a state of emergency and dissolution of the government provoked an immediate international backlash, with the United States, a key backer of Sudan's transition process, strongly condemning the military's actions.

"In light of these developments, the United States is pausing assistance from the $700m in emergency assistance appropriations of economic support funds for Sudan," said US State Department spokesman Ned Price.

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, Sudan's top general Burhan said the army had taken the actions it had "to rectify the revolution's course".

Protesters killed

Internet services were cut across the country and roads into Khartoum were shut, before soldiers stormed the headquarters of the state broadcaster in the capital's twin city of Omdurman.

But clashes still erupted in Khartoum after Burhan's speech.

"Civilian rule is the people's choice," chanted the demonstrators, who waved flags and used tyres to create burning barricades.

The information ministry said soldiers "fired live bullets on protesters... outside the army headquarters".

A health ministry official told Reuters that seven people had been killed by gunfire and 140 injured in clashes between soldiers and street protesters.

The independent Central Committee of Sudan Doctors said at least four demonstrators were killed and about 80 people wounded.

International condemnation

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: "The United States strongly condemns the actions of the Sudanese military forces," calling for the restoration of the civilian-led transitional government.

Price said US officials had not been able to contact Hamdok and added that the US considers the army's move as a "military takeover".

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However, he said the US would not undertake a determination into whether a coup had taken place because Washington was already operating under the 1989 coup determination, when Bashir came to power through a military takeover.

A troika of countries previously involved in mediating Sudanese conflicts - the US, UK and Norway - said that "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".

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned Sudan risked returning to oppression.

"It would be disastrous if Sudan goes backwards after finally bringing an end to decades of repressive dictatorship," she said.

The European Union, African Union and Arab League also expressed concern.

US may not issue sanctions

Yezid​ Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Malcolm H Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, told Middle East Eye that Monday's developments will have an adverse impact on Washington's efforts to support the democratic transition.

However, despite the announcement to pause assistance, Sayigh said that the US may not go as far as issuing sanctions.

"A US aid cut will be bad for Sudan's economy, but far worse would be restoring formal sanctions or blocking Sudan’s access to the [International Monetary Fund] and other international sources of aid and credit - that would be close to a knock-out blow, which I suspect the US will refrain from," Sayigh said.

"After all, the US and [European Union] rewarded the Egyptian Armed Forces with recognition and massive financial assistance after it took power in 2013."

Sayigh added that "regional powers including Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia - and Israel - may lobby to soften US and EU reactions, and help the Sudanese military hold out against pressure".

Members of the US Congress also condemned the military's seizure of power, with Senator Chris Murphy, who serves as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Comittee, calling for the release of Sudan's civilian leaders and a return to the democratic transition process.