Thousands of protesters have defied a curfew imposed by Sudan’s new military rulers, demanding a civilian government replace the military council that seized power from long-ruling president Omar al-Bashir on Thursday after months of street protests.
“The revolution has just started,” some of the demonstrators shouted as they continued a mass protest outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, the focal point of escalating demonstrations since last weekend.
The protesters achieved a major part of their goal when their pressure helped end the 30-year rule of Mr. al-Bashir, an indicted war-crimes suspect who had survived decades of rebellions and economic turmoil. But they were angered that the president was replaced by a long-standing member of his own military establishment, suggesting that there will be few changes in the country’s direction.
Sudan’s Defence Minister and Vice-President, Awad Ibn Auf, proclaimed the military takeover on national television on Thursday after four months of almost daily protests across the country. He said Mr. al-Bashir had been arrested and held at “a safe place” to make way for a military council that would govern for the next two years.
Mr. Ibn Auf, who was later sworn into office as Sudan’s interim president, announced the dissolution of the constitution and a nightly curfew of 10 p.m. under a renewed state of emergency. He also promised the release of protesters who had been arrested by the security forces.
But when the curfew began on Thursday night, the protesters remained defiantly in the streets, and there was no immediate sign of a crackdown against them. Opposition leaders vowed that the protests would continue until the military council agreed to a transition to civilian democratic rule.
Mr. Ibn Auf is a retired army officer and former military intelligence chief who helped organize the notorious pro-government Janjaweed militia in the country’s Darfur region. After a United Nations mission identified him as among those responsible for the Darfur crisis, he was placed on a U.S. blacklist and his assets were blocked.
In his announcement, Mr. Ibn Auf criticized the government for corruption, mismanagement and the deaths of protesters who were killed by security forces this week. But he showed no hint of allowing civilians or opposition leaders into the government. He said the legislative and executive branches of government would be dissolved while the military council ruled.
Earlier in the day, tens of thousands of protesters celebrated jubilantly in the streets of Khartoum, shouting “he’s gone, he’s gone,” in response to widespread reports that Mr. al-Bashir had been arrested.
The streets of Sudan’s capital were filled with cars and trucks honking their horns as people cheered wildly, punching their fists in the air and waving Sudanese flags. A number of imprisoned protest leaders were freed and quickly joined the protesters in the streets. Opposition leaders appealed to the protesters to remain peaceful as social media showed videos of people tearing down Mr. al-Bashir’s portrait and breaking into the home of a senior government official.
But within minutes of the announcement of the military takeover, the mood quickly changed and the cheering ended.
Mr. al-Bashir, a former army officer who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on an arrest warrant for alleged genocide and war crimes in Darfur, seized power in Sudan in a military coup in 1989. He was able to maintain control despite U.S. sanctions and sporadic protests. But the latest wave of sustained protests, which began last December, intensified the pressure on him and triggered divisions in the army and security apparatus, with some mid-level soldiers and police defecting to the protesters.
The protests were sparked originally by soaring bread prices, cash shortages and a deepening economic crisis. But the demonstrations grew much stronger last Saturday when thousands of protesters moved into the area outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, staging a round-the-clock mass sit-in and winning protection from elements in the military. At least 22 people were reportedly killed as security forces tried unsuccessfully to clear the protesters.
The dramatic developments in Sudan were the latest in a wave of political transitions in several African countries in recent years. Long-ruling autocrats have been forced to step down in countries such as Algeria, Zimbabwe and Gambia. But with the exception of Gambia, most of these transitions have not yet led to full democracy, and the military has continued to play a powerful role in the new governments.
The African Union, in a statement on Thursday, criticized the military takeover and threatened to take “appropriate decisions” against Sudan. Analysts said the statement was a hint that the AU could suspend Sudan from its membership, an action it has rarely taken against its members.
“The military takeover is not the appropriate response to the challenges facing Sudan and the aspirations of its people,” said the statement by Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the AU Commission. He called on Sudanese authorities to meet the people’s aspirations for democracy, and to “restore constitutional order as soon as possible.”
Amnesty International called for Mr. al-Bashir to be turned over to the ICC for prosecution. “Omar al-Bashir is wanted for some of the most odious human-rights violations of our generation, and we need to finally see him held accountable,” said a statement by Amnesty International secretary-general Kumi Naidoo.
The Canadian government said it commended the Sudanese people “for their resilience and determination to make their voices heard … in the face of a violent response from the authorities.” It called for the authorities to lift the state of emergency and release all detained protesters.