Furious anti-coup Sudanese protesters vowed to press ahead Friday with a campaign of civil disobedience, following deadly clashes with security forces during demonstrations against a widely condemned military takeover.
At least eight people have been killed and 170 wounded in protests since the army’s power grab on Monday, including one protester who died in violence overnight Thursday, when security forces fired tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets, according to medics.
“Confronting peaceful protesters with gunfire is something that should not be tolerated,” said protester Haitham Mohamed in Khartoum. “It will not make us back down; it only strengthens our resolve.”
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan — Sudan’s de facto leader since the 2019 ouster of veteran autocrat Omar al-Bashir after huge youth-led protests — on Monday dissolved the country’s civilian-led fragile government and ordered the arrest of several top officials.
Sudan had been ruled since August 2019 by a joint civilian-military council, alongside Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s administration, as part of the now stalled transition to full civilian rule.
Hamdok has been placed under effective house arrest, while other civilian leaders are in military detention. The capital has been rocked by days of unrest and is bracing for major demonstrations on Saturday.
Burhan, a senior general under the three decades of Bashir’s iron-fisted rule, has insisted the military’s takeover “was not a coup” but only meant to “rectify the course of the Sudanese transition”.
At Friday prayers in a mosque — broadcast on state-run Sudan TV, and well attended by soldiers in uniform — the imam echoed that, urging worshippers not to call it a “coup” but rather a “well-timed rectification”.
A day ahead of planned mass demonstrations against Burhan, the imam pleaded for Sudanese to welcome the army.
“Our loyalty and love should be for the security forces,” the preacher said. “We should not harm them.”
On Friday, soldiers from the regular army and the much-feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces patrolled the streets of Khartoum, as well as the twin cities of Khartoum-North and Omdurman, across the Nile river from the capital.
Heavily armed security forces tore down protest barricades of tyres and rocks blocking roads, and carried out random searches of people and cars.
“The military is no different than the previous regime,” protester Mohamed added.
The internet has been largely blocked, and shops are largely closed in Khartoum. Many civil servants are refusing to work until the transitional government is restored.
The coup was the latest in the impoverished country, which has experienced only rare democratic interludes since independence in 1956 and spent decades riven by civil war.
It prompted international condemnation and several punitive measures, with the World Bank and the United States freezing aid, which will hit a country already mired in a dire economic crisis hard.
The coup was a “grave setback”, US President Joe Biden said Thursday.
“Our message to Sudan’s military authorities is overwhelming and clear: the Sudanese people must be allowed to protest peacefully and the civilian-led transitional government must be restored,” Biden said.
The UN Security Council on Thursday expressed “serious concern” while the African Union has suspended Sudan’s membership for the “unconstitutional” takeover.
Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi, the daughter of Sudan’s last democratically elected prime minister who was ousted in Bashir’s 1989 military coup, is one of the few civilian leaders not in detention, and has become a leading critic of Burhan.
“We clearly reject any coup… we also resist it with all civil means,” she told Al Arabiya television.
Multiple Sudanese diplomatic missions — including to the US, China and the European Union — have openly rejected the military seizure of power, prompting Burhan to sack them.
Earlier this week, soldiers seized control of the state news agency SUNA, forcing journalists out, while on Friday, they targeted the Al Democraty newspaper.
Protesters are gearing up for what they claim will be a “million” strong march against the military on Saturday.
Their slogans are clear: “Burhan, leave power”, and “Burhane to Kober!” — referring to the high-security prison in Khartoum where Bashir is behind bars.