Sudan coup: deposed PM allowed home as general says politicians ‘stirred up strife’

By Peter Beaumont

Sudan’s deposed prime minister and his wife have been allowed to return home a day after they were detained when the military seized power in a coup, according to a statement issued by his office.

The release of prime minister Abdalla Hamdok and his wife late on Tuesday followed international condemnation of the coup and calls for the military to release all the government officials who were detained when Gen Abdel-Fattah Burhan seized power on Monday.

The statement by Hamdok’s office said other government officials remained in detention, their locations unknown.

The deposed prime minister and his wife were under “heavy security” at home in the upmarket area of Kafouri in the capital Khartoum, said a military official. The official did not say whether they were free to leave or make calls.

The European Union said late on Tuesday that the new regime faced “serious consequences”, including the withdrawal of financial support. The US has already suspended $700m in aid while the IMF said it was following events closely.

Earlier in the day, Burhan said in a televised media conference that Hamdok had been held for his own safety and would be released. But he warned that other members of the dissolved government could face trial as protests against the putsch continued in the streets.

The military seized power in a move that was widely denounced abroad. On Tuesday, pro-democracy demonstrators blocked roads in the capital with makeshift barricades and burning tires.

Witnesses in the east Khartoum district of Burri said security forces fired teargas at protesters blocking a main road in opposition to the coup. At least 10 people have died in the unrest since Monday.

“Frenzied putschist forces are attacking protest gatherings in separate parts nationwide,” said the Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella of unions which were instrumental in the protests in that led to removal of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir from power in 2019 and his replacement with power-sharing between civilian parties and the military. The new regime has already moved to dissolve the leadership of the powerful trade unions.

Burhan appeared to strike a more defensive note as he attempted to explain why he had seized power, perhaps in a message aimed at western sentiment as the US, UK and Norway described the coup as a “betrayal of the revolution, the transition, and the legitimate requests of the Sudanese people for peace, justice and economic development”.

“The whole country was deadlocked due to political rivalries,” Burhan told a televised news conference. “The experience during the past two years has proven that the participation of political forces in the transitional period is flawed and stirs up strife.

“Yes, we arrested ministers and politicians, but not all of them,” Burhan added.

Although Burhan promised again that the military would continue with Sudan’s political transition, the country’s experience from long periods of previous military rule puts those claims in doubt.

At an emergency meeting of the UN security council on Tuesday, secretary general António Guterres urged world powers to unite to confront a recent “epidemic of coups d’etat”. But the UN’s most powerful body took no action during the closed-door consultations about Sudan, a nation in Africa linked by language and culture to the Arab world.

The coup ends a period of tense power-sharing between civilian and military leaders, which has faltered in recent months as negotiations between opposition political factions have broken down.

Hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators have taken to the streets of Khartoum and other major cities demanding full civilian rule, days after a sit-in was launched calling for a return to military government.

Burhan attempted to place the blame the crisis on Hamdok for refusing to compromise with generals during talks at the weekend involving Sudan’s parties and brokered by the US envoy, Jeffrey Feltman. Burhan said the army had acted because he was concerned about the risk of civil war, accusing political forces of incitement against the armed forces.

Hamdok had been held at Burhan’s home, the general said, and was in good health. But of the many other senior government officials detained Monday, Burhan alleged that some tried to incite a rebellion within the armed forces, saying they would face trial. Others who are found “innocent” would be freed, he added.

Hamdok’s office had voiced concern for his safety and for the other detained officials. In a statement, the office accused military leaders of acting in concert with Islamists, who have argued for a military government, and other politicians linked to the now-dissolved National Congress party, which dominated Sudan during Bashir’s Islamist-backed rule.

President Joe Biden’s administration announced the halt of $700m in emergency assistance to Sudan and said on Tuesday it was looking at sending stronger signals to the generals.

“They should first and foremost cease any violence against innocent civilians, and ... they should release those who have been detained and they should get back on a democratic path,” said Jake Sullivan, the administration’s national security adviser.

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, reported that he spoke to Hamdok on Tuesday, and welcomed his release. Blinken emphasised that the US supported a civilian-led transition to democracy in Sudan, a state department statement said.

Mariam al-Mahdi, the foreign minister in the dissolved government, declared Tuesday that she and other members of Hamdok’s administration remained the legitimate authority in Sudan.

“We are still in our positions. We reject such coup and such unconstitutional measures,” she told Associated Press by phone from her home in Khartoum. “We will continue our peaceful disobedience and resistance.”