Troops practice drills at the African Union base in Mallit, North Darfur state, Sudan. (Photographer: Karl Maier/Bloomberg News)

Sudan Army Ousts President After Protests, Ending 30-Year Rule

(Bloomberg) -- Sudan’s military overthrew President Omar al-Bashir and announced it would rule the oil-producing North African nation through a transitional council for the next two years, after four months of anti-government protests. Activists condemned the action as a palace coup.

First Vice President and Defense Minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf was sworn in late Thursday as head of the transitional council, broadcaster Arabiya reported. In a televised address earlier, he announced a three-month state of emergency, a suspension of the constitution, the release of political prisoners and a month-long 10 p.m.-to-4 a.m. curfew. Al-Bashir is under house arrest, he said.

The army’s ouster of al-Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 coup, ends the reign of one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers. The 75-year-old becomes the second regional leader after Algeria’s military-backed president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to leave this month in the face of nationwide protests, stirring echoes of the Arab Spring uprisings that rocked the region from 2011.

Sudan Army Ousts President After Protests, Ending 30-Year Rule

Tens of thousands of Sudanese were on the streets of the capital, Khartoum, on Thursday after conflicting signs of how the military would approach the protests, which began mid-December over soaring living costs that sent inflation rocketing to about 70 percent. More than 45 people have been killed in the unrest and 2,600 arrested, according to rights groups.

While the African Union Commission’s chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said “the military take-over is not the appropriate response to the challenges facing Sudan and the aspirations of its people,” a spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General called for an inclusive transition to democracy.

Sudan has seen a series of coups since independence in 1956. Many participants in a sit-in outside military headquarters expressed anger at the generals taking power, with some chanting: “We changed one dictator for another.”

The Freedom and Change alliance, which has helped organize the demonstrations, urged protesters to maintain their pressure. In a statement, it refused to accept what it called a military coup that retains many of the faces that Sudan’s people rebelled against.

“The critical issue is now whether the army will want to monopolize power, and replace one military leadership with another, or whether power will be shared with and transferred to a transitional civilian government,” Ahmed Soliman, a research fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House, said in an emailed note. “There is also potential for increased violence and fragmentation if demands for a genuine transition towards an inclusive transitional civilian government are not met.”

Sudan Army Ousts President After Protests, Ending 30-Year Rule

Ibn Auf also announced the disbanding of the national assembly and state governments, and the closing of Sudanese airspace for 24 hours.

“While we shoulder this responsibility, we will be keen on the safety of citizens and the nation,” he said. “We hope that citizens will bear the responsibility with us and bear with some tightened security measures as they take part in the security and safety of the nation.”

A supreme security council, made up of the intelligence, military, police and other branches, had been following the situation for some time, according to Ibn Auf. The presidency was warned, he said, but “kept repeating slogans and fake promises.”

Protesters on Thursday kept up the six-day sit-in at the army HQ that was called by the Sudanese Professionals Association to mark the anniversary of the 1985 rebellion that overthrew President Gaafar al-Nimeiri. The outlawed group includes doctors, engineers and academics, and has played an instrumental role in sustaining the uprising.

Sudan Army Ousts President After Protests, Ending 30-Year Rule

“This is the worst scenario that we could expect,” said protester Khalid Youssef of Ibn Auf’s announcement.

Amnesty International expressed alarm over a “raft of emergency measures” and urged the transitional authorities to enact a peaceful transfer of power that respects freedom of expression and assembly.

A pariah in the West, al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, sharply curtailing which countries he can visit. Sudan was listed a state sponsor of terror by the U.S. in the 1990s, a designation that continued even after the U.S. in 2017 lifted most of the sanctions it had imposed.

Sudan’s defense minister, too, has faced accusations over his role in a conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region that began in 2003. A former head of military intelligence, Ibn Auf was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2007 for acting as a liaison between Sudan’s government and the Janjaweed, a militia notorious for its attacks on civilians.

“Ibn Auf is a symbol of the old regime and wants to maintain the interests of himself and Bashir,” said protester Adela Isam.

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department said it was “closely monitoring” the situation and was suspending some bilateral talks with the government which had been scheduled for late April -- and which were being held with the goal of helping the country get off the state sponsor of terrorism list.

“Sudan has the opportunity to set itself on a new path – one that must include legitimate democratic elections, respect for human rights, and a civilian-led government,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said. “We call on all armed parties to show restraint, avoid conflict, and remain committed to the protection of the Sudanese people.”

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