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Sudan ruler Omar al-Bashir removed as president and arrested by military

Second Arab ruler in two weeks to fall amid ‘widespread demand for an end to corrupt and stagnant rulers’

Borzou Daragahi
International Correspondent
Thursday 11 April 2019 18:49 BST
Protesters in Sudan rejoice after officials say al Bashir has quit

Sudan’s longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir was removed as president on Thursday and arrested by the military, following months of popular protests that culminated in clashes between his loyalist security branches and the uniformed armed forces.

In an address on state television, Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, the country’s defence minister and army chief, declared a one-month nighttime curfew, a three-month state of emergency and said the military council will rule for two years. The country’s airspace will also be closed for 24 hours and the border shut until further notice, he said.

A son of Sudan’s main opposition leader said Mr Bashir was under house arrest along with a number of his political allies, according to Dubai-based al-Hadath news channel. Mr Ibn Auf said Mr Bashir would be kept “in a safe place”.

Khartoum erupted with rapturous celebrations on the streets in reaction to the announcement that Mr Bashir was departing after 30 years in power. But many fear the joy is premature. The military has for decades run Sudan, repeatedly toppling attempts at civilian rule.

Many of the protesters fear the armed forces are attempting what has become known in the Arab world as the “Egyptian scenario”, where the military ousts an unpopular president only to replace them with another from their own ranks.

“The second I saw it was General Ibn Auf speaking, I couldn’t care less because this is just a reproduction of the exact same regime we have been fighting for four months now,” Ahmed Mahmoud, an activist and journalist in Khartoum, said in a phone interview. He was taking a break from the mass protests when he heard the news and immediately headed back to the protest site.

“Literally everyone is chanting slogans that were made after the speech, that we don’t accept Ibn Auf and we won’t accept this new government,” he told The Independent. ”We want a civil transitional government. We don’t want a military transitional government.”

“The people do not want a transitional military council,” Alaa Salah, a young woman protest leader who was photographed speaking to crowds and has become a symbol of the Sudanese uprising, wrote on Twitter. “Change will not happen with Bashir’s entire regime hoodwinking Sudanese civilians through a military coup. We want a civilian council to head the transition.”

But there were also signs that even the coup to oust Mr Bashir appeared to be on shaky ground, and analysts warned that security forces could disintegrate, with supporters of Mr Bashir attempting stage a counter-coup.

“There are substantial divisions within the regime,” said Murithi Mutiga, of the International Crisis Group, an advocacy and conflict resolution organisation based in Brussels and Washington. “It’s a very fragmented security landscape. They have been kept deliberately fragmented by Bashir to prevent this very occurrence.”

The Sudanese Professionals Association, the main umbrella group behind the popular demonstrations, called on people to come to the protests in larger numbers, in an attempt to bolster the anti-Bashir faction of the armed forces, as well as to build momentum for civilian rule.

Along with other groups, the association has formed a council which it proposes could rule the country for several years before a general election. “This alliance has become a coherent political force in the country but still needs time to establish transitional plans, including outlining its political leadership structure and solutions for the economic crisis,” wrote Ahmed Soliman, a researcher at Chatham House, in a note to journalists.

Mr Mahmoud, the activist, vowed to stay in the streets until there is some measure of justice and accountability for those killed during months of protest, and for the corruption of recent years. He vowed to defy the 10pm military curfew and remain camped out at the protest site. “We’re not leaving, no matter what kind of force they throw at us,” he said. “He said there’s going to be a military transitional government for two years. We will stay in the street for two years.”

Mr Bashir’s apparent demise followed hours of chaos that begin early Thursday morning as the country’s state broadcaster was seized by the military, while armed forces were deployed throughout the city, and thousands of protesters began to gather in front of the armed forces headquarters in Khartoum. “We waited and waited, and by that time millions, literally millions, were coming from all over the Khartoum area,” said Mr Mahmoud. 

Videos posted to social media showed tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of protesters flooding the streets in celebration.

The state news agency, SUNAlater reported that all political prisoners across the country would be released by the country’s security agency (NISS).

Omar al-Bashir has ruled Sudan for 30 years, taking power in a 1989 coup.

He is wanted on international charges of genocide for his role in directing violence against non-Arab minorities in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Demonstrators chant slogans and carry Sudanese flags in Khartoum yesterday (Reuters)

“Sudan should surrender Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court immediately,” said Jehanne Henry from Human Rights Watch.

“Victims of the gravest crimes in Darfur should not have to wait any longer for justice.”

But the leader had recently rehabilitated his stature among western leaders by sidling up to their Arabian peninsula partners, cutting the country’s ties with Iran and supplying young men to fight the Saudi and United Arab Emirates’ war in Yemen.

At the request of Gulf allies, the administration of US president Donald Trump removed Sudan from its list of sanctioned nations last year.

Apparent moves against him by the armed forces came quickly after his loyalist security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing at least five uniformed military officials protecting them outside their compound in Khartoum on Tuesday.

Omar al-Bashir’s departure comes little more than a week after mass protests forced out Algeria’s longtime president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in a manoeuvre also orchestrated by the country’s armed forces (AFP/Getty Images)

In both cases, the military remains the core, premier power within the state, and removing an unpopular political front man preserves the regime without bringing about fundamental changes in governance or patronage.

“The critical issue is now whether the army will want to monopolise power and replace one military leadership with another, or whether power will be shared with and transferred to a transitional civilian government,” wrote Mr Soliman.

The persistent protests show the continued demands for democratic change in Arab nations long dominated by authoritarian military rulers.

“The overthrow of two entrenched dictators in less than two weeks reminds us again of the fragility of authoritarian government in the region, and the widespread demand for an end to corrupt and stagnant rulers who fail to respect the rights and aspirations of their peoples,” Timothy Kaldas, non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told The Independent.

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