Sudanese general tightens grip on power, 2 weeks after coup

AP file photo
Sudan’s head of the military, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, speaks during a press conference at the General Command of the Armed Forces in Khartoum on Oct. 26.

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Sudan’s top general reappointed himself as head of the army-run interim governing body on Thursday, a sign that he’s tightening his grip on the country two weeks after he led a coup against civilian leaders.

The move by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan — along with other appointments he announced for the Sovereign Council — was expected to anger Sudan’s pro-democracy protest movement, sidelined in the coup. Since the Oct. 25 takeover, pro-democracy leaders have demanded the military relinquish power and refuse to be part of any administration in which a military maintains a role.

Thursday’s development, announced in a bulletin by Sudan’s state television, comes amid repeated promises from the military that they will hand over power to civilian authorities. Since the coup, more than 100 government officials and political leaders have been detained, along with a large number of protesters and activists. Almost all remain in custody.

At least 14 anti-coup protesters have been killed due to excessive force used by the country’s security forces, according to Sudanese doctors and the United Nations.

Sudan’s culture and information minister, Hamza Baloul, who was arrested during the coup and later released, condemned the appointments. He described Thursday’s announcement of the new council as “an extension of the coup” and said pro-democracy protesters are right to refuse to negotiate with military leaders. The protest movement has in recent days rejected internationally backed initiatives to return to a power-sharing arrangement with the military and has called for a nationwide strike.

Sudan has been in the midst of a fragile transition since a 2019 pro-democracy uprising led to the removal of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir. The 11-member Sovereign Council was first formed in the summer of 2019, after the military signed a power-sharing deal with pro-democracy forces.

A number of other members of the body sat on the previous council that Burhan headed before he dissolved it in the coup. Also reappointed to the body Thursday was the powerful paramilitary leader Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, as vice-president. And Burhan reappointed as council members another three generals who had served in the previous council.

Three others on the council are leaders of rebel groups who fought Bashir’s government for years, but who have moved towards peace with the transitional government. They all also served on the previous council. One of them, Malik Agar, a prominent leader of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, a rebel movement in Sudan’s southern Blue Nile States, was one of signees to a historic peace accord with the transitional government in Juba, South Sudan last year.

Five of the members are civilians, only one of whom — Raja Nicola, a Christian lawyer — served on the previous body. She is one of two women appointees.

The agreement under which the council was formed after Bashir’s ouster stipulated that the council should include five civilians chosen by activists, five military representatives chosen by the armed forces and one civilian member to be chosen in agreement between civilians and the generals.

The make-up of the new council falls short of the demands of key pro-democracy groups in the African county. The Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, the main group that spearheaded the uprising that culminated in the overthrow of al-Bashir, has said that it would oppose the reappointment of Burhan to the top decision-making position.

Before the coup, the Sovereign Council held ultimate power while the government of the now deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok oversaw day-to-day matters. Since the coup, Hamdok has remained under house arrest in the capital, Khartoum, as Western powers and U.N. diplomats try to mediate a resolution to the crisis.

The coup in Sudan has been condemned by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union — all of which have urged the generals to restore a military-civilian transitional government. Mediation efforts are ongoing to resolve the crisis.

On Wednesday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that U.N. Special Representative for Sudan Volker Perthes met the previous day with Burhan.

In the talks, the special representative urged for “a return to the transitional partnership” and appealed on the military “to exercise restraint and to take de-escalation measures, including freeing all those people who have been detained and the prime minister who remains under house detention,” said Dujarric.

Dujarric also said the U.N. Secretary General António Guterres spoke with the ousted premier, Hamdok, earlier in the week.

Earlier on Thursday, an advocacy group said internet access remains largely disrupted in Sudan since last month’s military coup, despite a court order for providers to restore services.

According to a tweet by NetBlocks, the disruption is now in its eighteenth day and represents an “ongoing impediment” to democracy and human rights. A Sudanese court ruled on Wednesday, ordering the country’s three main telecommunications providers to restore internet access. However, authorities have not shown any sign yet of carrying out that order.