Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is out, but protesters still concerned with stand-in

by - 4 min read

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is out, but protesters still concerned with stand-in

by - 4 min read

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Sudan’s military overthrew President Omar al-Bashir on Thursday after months of bloody street protests over his repressive 30-year rule. But pro-democracy demonstrators were left angry and disappointed when the defense minister announced the armed forces will govern the country for the next two years. 

Al-Bashir’s fall came just over a week after Algeria’s long-ruling, military-backed president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was driven from power.

Together, the developments echoed the Arab Spring uprisings eight years ago that brought down entrenched rulers across the Mideast. But like those popular movements of 2011, the new ones face a similar dynamic — a struggle over what happens after an autocrat’s removal.

Protest organizers in Sudan denounced the army’s takeover and vowed to continue rallies until a civilian transitional government is formed. Tens of thousands of demonstrators were massed at a sit-in they have held for nearly a week outside the military’s headquarters in central Khartoum, the capital.

After the televised announcement of al-Bashir’s arrest by Defence Minister Gen. Awad Mohammed Ibn Auf — who is under U.S. sanctions for links to atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur conflict — many protesters chanted angrily, “The first one fell, the second will, too!” Some shouted, “They removed a thief and brought in a thief!”

Ibn Auf said a military council that will be formed by the army, intelligence agencies and security apparatus will rule for two years, after which “free and fair elections” will take place.

He also announced that the military had suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, declared a state of emergency for three months, closed the country’s borders and airspace and imposed a curfew starting Thursday night.

Sudanese defence minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf announced the ouster of president Omar al-Bashir on state TV. (Sudan TV/Reuters TV )

In the wake of the coup, international human rights groups urged Sudanese military authorities to hand over the 75-year-old al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court, where he faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for his deadly campaign against insurgents in the country’s Darfur region.

Amnesty International’s secretary general, Kumi Naidoo, said al-Bashir is wanted for “some of the most odious human rights violations of our generation.”

We routinely called and will continue to call for member states to have full cooperation with the ICC, consistent with the Security Council resolution,” StéphaneDujarrica spokesperson for the secretary general of the United Nations, said Thursday.

The message at this point today is calm and restraint; and that the secretary general expects that the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people will be realized through an appropriate and inclusive transition process. But obviously the situation remains fluid, and we will continue to watch it.” 

Al-Bashir, whose whereabouts were not immediately known, came to power in a coup of his own in 1989, backed by the military and Islamist hard-liners. He kept an iron grip on power and brutally suppressed any opposition, while monopolizing the economy through allied businessmen.

Over his three decades in control, he was forced to allow the secession of South Sudan after years of war, a huge blow to the north’s economy. He became an international pariah over the bloodletting in Darfur. And the U.S. targeted his government repeatedly with sanctions and airstrikes for his support of Islamic militants.

Throughout, he was a swaggering figure known to dance with his cane in front of cheering crowds.

The Sudanese president addressed parliament in the capital Khartoum on April 1. It was his first such speech since he imposed a state of emergency across the country in February. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

The street protests that erupted in December were met with crackdowns by the government that left dozens of people dead and eventually turned the military leadership against al-Bashir. Several times in the past week, army troops trying to protect the rallies exchanged fire with security forces.

The protests — involving a mix of young activists, students, professional-employee unions and opposition parties — were initially fuelled by anger over the deteriorating economy but quickly turned to demands for the president’s ouster, and gained momentum last week after Bouteflika’s resignation in Algeria.

Demonstrators attend a protest rally demanding Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir step down outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum on Thursday. (Reuters)

Word of al-Bashir’s removal emerged in the morning, when state TV announced that the military was about to make an “important statement,” and two high-ranking officials told The Associated Press that al-Bashir had been ousted. That prompted thousands of protesters to march toward the center of Khartoum, cheering, singing and dancing in celebration.

The announcement finally came hours later from Ibn Auf, a key power figure in al-Bashir’s regime.

Replacing coup with a coup

“I, the defence minister, the head of the Supreme Security Committee, announce the uprooting of this regime and the seizing of its head, after detaining him in a safe place,” he said.

He denounced al-Bashir’s government for “bad administration, systemic corruption, absence of justice.”

“The poor became poorer and the rich became richer. Hope in equality has been lost,” Ibn Auf said.

He also said al-Bashir’s crackdown against protesters risked splitting the security establishment and “could cause grave casualties.”

Mariam al-Mahdi, a leading member of the opposition Umma, called the military’s takeover “a dangerous move.”

“Our demands are clear: We don’t want to replace a coup with a coup,” al-Mahdi said.

Security forces have come down hard on the protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and batons. Al-Bashir banned unauthorized public gatherings and granted sweeping powers to the police after imposing a state of emergency last month.

After Bouteflika’s fall, the Khartoum protesters launched the sit-in, and the clampdown grew bloodier, with at least 22 people killed since Saturday.

This story originally appeared on CBC

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