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Sudan general: PM detained in coup held for his own safety

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A pro-democracy protester flashes the victory sign as thousands take to the streets to condemn a takeover by military officials, in Khartoum, Sudan, Monday Oct. 25, 2021. Sudan's military seized power Monday, dissolving the transitional government hours after troops arrested the acting prime minister and other officials. The takeover comes more than two years after protesters forced the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir and just weeks before the military was expected to hand the leadership of the council that runs the African country over to civilians.
A pro-democracy protester flashes the victory sign as thousands take to the streets to condemn a takeover by military officials, in Khartoum, Sudan, Monday Oct. 25, 2021. Sudan's military seized power Monday, dissolving the transitional government hours after troops arrested the acting prime minister and other officials. The takeover comes more than two years after protesters forced the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir and just weeks before the military was expected to hand the leadership of the council that runs the African country over to civilians. (AP Photo/Ashraf Idris) Photo Gallery

CAIRO — Sudan’s ruling general suggested Tuesday that some members of the government he dissolved in a coup could face trial but said that the deposed prime minister was being held for his own safety and would likely be released soon.

A day after the military seized power in a move widely denounced by the international community, pro-democracy protesters took to the streets again, blocking roads in the capital with makeshift barricades and burning tires.

The takeover came after weeks of mounting tensions between military and civilian leaders over the course and the pace of Sudan’s transition to democracy. It threatened to derail that process, which has progressed in fits and starts since the overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising two years ago.

The United Nations Security Council was to discuss the situation in Sudan, a nation in Africa linked by language and culture to the Arab world, at a closed-door meeting later in the day.

In his second public appearance since seizing power, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan said Tuesday that the military was forced to step in to resolve a growing political crisis that he alleged could have led to civil war. But the coup came less than a month before Burhan was supposed to hand the leadership of the Sovereign Council that runs the country to a civilian — a step that would have decreased the military’s hold on power.

“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.”

Of the slew of senior government officials detained in Monday’s coup, some tried to incite a rebellion within the armed forces, Burhan alleged, saying they would face trial. Others who are found “innocent” would be freed, he said.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was being held at Burhan’s home, the general said, and was in good health. He added that the politician would be released “today or tomorrow.”

But shortly after Burhan spoke, Hamdok’s office issued a statement, voicing concerns about the safety of the premier and other detained officials. It did not say where the politician was being held.

The statement accused the military leaders of acting in concert with Islamists, who have argued for a military government, and other politicians linked to al-Bashir’s National Congress Party, which was dissolved in 2019.

Western governments and the U.N. have condemned the coup and called for the release of Hamdok and other senior officials. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced the suspension of $700 million in emergency assistance to Sudan.

Mariam al-Mahdi, the foreign minister in the government that the military dissolved, was defiant Tuesday, declaring 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 The Associated Press over the phone from her home in the capital of Khartoum. “We will continue our peaceful disobedience and resistance.”

Sudan’s Ministry of Culture and Information, which remains loyal to the deposed government, said in a Facebook post Tuesday that three of the country’s ambassadors — in Belgium, Switzerland and France — have defected.

Nureldin Satti, the Sudanese envoy to the U.S., said that he was working with those diplomats to “resist the military coup in support of the heroic struggle of the Sudanese people” to achieve the aims of the uprising against al-Bashir. But he did not specify whether he, too, had defected.

Al-Mahdi, meanwhile, spoke to the wife of one of the officials detained, Minister of Cabinet Affairs Khalid Omar, and said he was humiliated and mistreated during his arrest.

“They (military forces) took Khalid barefoot, wearing only his nightclothes,” she said.

Hours after the arrests, Sudanese flooded the streets of Khartoum and other cities in protest. At least four people were killed and over 80 wounded when security forces opened fire on protesters, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Committee.

The country and the world are now braced to see if more violence will unfold in the nation, which saw a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2019. Some protesters remained in the streets on Tuesday morning, with many roads blocked. A bigger test of how the military will respond to the resistance could come Saturday when protesters plan a mass march to demand a return to civilian rule.

Troops from the military and the feared Rapid Support Forces patrolled Khartoum neighborhoods overnight, chasing protesters. The international group Human Rights Watch said forces used live ammunition against demonstrators.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for an immediate halt to violence against protesters and for the restoration of internet services. He said the U.S. was coordinating with partners to “chart a common diplomatic approach to address these actions and to prevent them from leading to further instability in Sudan and the region.”

On Monday, Burhan dissolved the Hamdok government and the Sovereign Council, a joint military and civilian body created soon after al-Bashir’s ouster to run the country. He now heads a military council that he said would rule Sudan until elections in July 2023.

The general said he is serious about holding elections on schedule. But much could happen in the coming 19 months, and it is not clear if the military will be willing to release the grip it has had for decades.

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, a group of unions which was behind the uprising against al-Bashir, urged people to go on strike and engage in civil disobedience. Separately, the Sudan Popular Liberation Movement–North, the country’s main rebel group, denounced the coup and called for people to take to the streets.

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