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Military ousts Sudan's Bashir; protesters demand civilian gov't

Sudanese defence minister announces arrest of Bashir

By Reuters - Apr 12,2019 - Last updated at Apr 12,2019

Sudanese demonstrators gather in a street in central Khartoum on Thursday, immediately after one of Africa's longest-serving presidents was toppled by the army (AFP photo)

KHARTOUM — President Omar Al Bashir, who ruled Sudan in autocratic style for 30 years, was overthrown in a military coup on Thursday, but protesters' jubilation was short-lived as they took to the streets demanding military leaders hand over power to civilians.

Bashir, 75, had faced 16 weeks of demonstrations against his rule. Announcing the ouster, Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf said Sudan would enter a two-year period of military rule to be followed by presidential elections.

Speaking on state television, he said Bashir was being detained in a "safe place" and a military council would now run the country. He did not say who would head it.

Ibn Auf announced a state of emergency, a nationwide ceasefire and the suspension of the constitution. Seated on a gold-upholstered armchair, he said Sudan's airspace would be closed for 24 hours and border crossings shut until further notice.

The main organiser of protests against Bashir, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), rejected the minister’s plans. It called on protesters to maintain a sit-in outside the defence ministry that began on Saturday.

Shortly afterwards, tens of thousands of demonstrators packed the streets of central Khartoum, their mood turning from celebration over Bashir’s expected departure to frustration at the announcement of the military-led transition.

National flags were waved over the vast crowds, which included families, women and people of all ages. “Fall, again!” many chanted, adapting an earlier anti-Bashir slogan of “Fall, that’s all!”. Some wrote anti-Ibn Auf slogans on their clothes. 

Sudanese sources told Reuters that Bashir was at the presidential residence under “heavy guard”.

State television said there would be a nighttime curfew from 10pm to 4am.


ICC warrant


Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague and is facing an arrest warrant over allegations of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to the death of an estimated 300,000 people. He denies the allegations.

Despite that he defied the court by visiting several ICC member states. Diplomatic disputes broke out when he went to South Africa in 2015 and Jordan in 2017 and both failed to arrest him.

Bashir’s downfall was the second time this month that a leader in the region has been forced out after mass demonstrations. Algeria’s ailing former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999, stepped down on April 2 after six weeks of protests against him extending his rule.

Names circulating about Bashir’s possible successors include the defence minister, an ex-military intelligence chief, also an Islamist, and former army chief of staff Emad Al Din Adawi.

Ibn Auf has long been among Sudan’s senior leadership.

Adawi is said to be favoured by regional neighbours at odds with Bashir over his Islamist leanings.

Omar Saleh Sennar, a senior SPA member, said the group expected to negotiate with the military over a transfer of power. “We will only accept a transitional civilian government,” he told Reuters.

Osman Abubakar, a 27-year-old protester in Port Sudan, said: “we will keep protesting until this new government is removed.” Some soldiers had joined in chants against the military council in the eastern city, he said. 

Ibn Auf announced the release of all political prisoners, and images circulated of freed detainees joining the protests. 

In Port Sudan and Kassala, another eastern city, protesters attacked the offices of Sudan’s intelligence and security service, witnesses said.

Amnesty International expressed alarm at the “raft of emergency measures” announced on Thursday.


Fate unclear


Bashir, a former paratrooper who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1989, has been a divisive figure who has managed his way through one internal crisis after another while withstanding attempts by the West to weaken him.

Sudan has suffered prolonged periods of isolation since 1993, when the United States added Bashir’s government to its list of terrorism sponsors for harbouring Islamist militants. Washington followed up with sanctions four years later.

A long civil war with southern separatists ended in 2005 and South Sudan became an independent country in 2011.

Since December, Sudan has been rocked by persistent protests sparked by the government’s attempt to raise the price of bread, and an economic crisis that has led to fuel and cash shortages.

From the start, the protests called for Bashir’s downfall. Opposition unions of medics and other professionals have played a prominent role, as have women and young people in general. Security forces responded with tear gas, arrests and sometimes live ammunition, killing dozens. 

The unrest escalated since the weekend, when thousands began camping out outside the defence ministry compound, where Bashir’s residence is located.

Clashes erupted between soldiers trying to protect the protesters and intelligence and security personnel trying to disperse them. Around 20 people were killed since the sit-in began.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for a “swift move to an inclusive, representative, civilian leadership”, saying in a Tweet that a “military council ruling for 2 years is not the answer”.

Activists abroad pressed for Sudan to turn over Bashir to the ICC.

“Victims of the gravest crimes in Darfur should not have to wait any longer for justice” said Jehanne Henry, associate director at the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

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