Sudan coup fears as interim prime minister 'put under house arrest'

Sudan’s information ministry says the country’s interim Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is under house arrest and being forced to issue a message in support of a military coup.

The US and European Union have both issued statements in support of the transitional government.

Military forces detained at least five senior Sudanese government figures on Monday, officials said, as the country’s main pro-democracy group and the largest political party, Umma, called on people to take to the streets to counter an apparent military coup.

The information ministry said the internet had been cut off and that military forces had closed bridges. The country’s state news channel played patriotic traditional music and scenes of the Nile river.

In response, thousands flooded the streets of Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman to protest the apparent military takeover. Footage shared online appeared to show protesters blocking streets and setting fire to tires as security forces used tear gas to disperse them.

Protesters could be heard chanting, “The people are stronger, stronger” and “Retreat is not an option!” as plumes of smoke from burning tires filled the air.

The arrests followed meetings the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman had with Sudanese military and civilian leaders Saturday and Sunday in efforts to resolve the dispute. Sudan’s state news website highlighted the meetings with military officials.

‘Utterly unacceptable’

Feltman said on Twitter on Monday that “the US is deeply alarmed” at the reports of a military take-over.

“This would contravene the Constitutional Declaration and the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people and is utterly unacceptable.

“As we have said repeatedly, any changes to the transitional government by force puts at risk US assistance,” he added.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, wrote that he is “following with utmost concern ongoing events in Sudan”.

“The EU calls on all stakeholders and regional partners to put back on track the transitional process,” he added.

Borrell is to attend a meeting of foreign ministers from the EU and the African Union on Tuesday in the Rwandan capital.

The UN envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, described himself as “very concerned about reports of an ongoing coup and attempts to undermine the political transition in Sudan”.

He said on Twitter the reported detention of civilian leaders is “unacceptable” and called for their immediate release.

“I urge all parties to exercise restraint. All parties should immediately return to dialogue and participate in good faith to restore constitutional order,” he added.

Weeks of tension

A possible takeover by the military would be a major setback for Sudan, which has grappled with a transition to democracy since long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled by mass protests.

Under Hamdok and the transitional council, Sudan had slowly emerged from years of international pariah status in which it existed under al-Bashir. The country was removed from the United States’ state supporter of terror list in 2020, opening the door for badly needed international loans and investment. But the country’s economy has struggled with the shock of a number of economic reforms called for by international lending institutions.

Monday’s arrests come after weeks of rising tensions between Sudan’s civilian and military leaders. A failed coup attempt in September fractured the country along old lines, pitting more conservative Islamists who want a military government against those who toppled al-Bashir more than two years ago in mass protests. In recent days, both camps have taken to the street in demonstrations.

The arrests of the five government figures were confirmed by two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

The officials said the detained government members include Industry Minister Ibrahim al-Sheikh, Information Minister Hamza Baloul, and Mohammed al-Fiky Suliman, member of the country’s ruling transitional body, known as The Sovereign Council, and Faisal Mohammed Saleh, a media adviser to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The whereabouts of Hamdok were not immediately clear, amid media reports that security forces were stationed outside his home in Khartoum. Photos circulating online showed men in uniform standing in the dark, allegedly near his home.

Ayman Khalid, governor of the state containing the capital, Khartoum, was also arrested, according to the official Facebook page of his office.

There have been previous military coups in Sudan since it gained its independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956. Al-Bashir came to power in a 1989 military coup that removed the country’s last elected government.