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Sudan capital locked down after coup triggers deadly unrest

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By Reuters
Sudan capital locked down after coup triggers deadly unrest
Sudan capital locked down after coup triggers deadly unrest   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM -Roads were blocked, shops were shut, phones were down and mosque loudspeakers blared calls for a general strike in Sudan on Tuesday, a day after the army seized power in a coup.

At least seven people were killed in unrest triggered by the military takeover, which brought a halt to Sudan’s transition to democracy two years after a popular uprising ended decades of authoritarian rule.

Plumes of smoke rose over Khartoum from tyres set ablaze by protesters. Life came to a halt in the capital and in its twin city Omdurman across the Nile, with roads blocked either by soldiers or by protester barricades.

The night appeared to have passed comparatively quietly after Monday’s unrest, when protesters took to the streets after soldiers arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other civilians in the cabinet. A health ministry official said seven people had been killed in clashes between protesters and the security forces.

On Monday, takeover leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan dissolved the military-civilian Sovereign Council set up to guide Sudan to democracy following the overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.

Burhan announced a state of emergency, saying the armed forces needed to protect safety and security. He promised to hold elections in July 2023 and hand over to an elected civilian government then. On Tuesday he dissolved committees that govern trade unions, Arabic news channels reported.

The Sudan information ministry, still loyal to Hamdok, has called the takeover a crime and said Hamdok is still the legitimate leader.

Hamdok and his missing cabinet members were still being held in an unknown location, the foreign minister of the ousted government said in a message posted on the information ministry’s Facebook page on Tuesday.

Main roads and bridges between Khartoum and Omdurman were closed to vehicles by the military. Banks and cash machines were shut, and mobile phone apps widely used for money transfers could not be accessed.

‘PAYING THEPRICE

Some bakeries were open in Omdurman but people were queuing for several hours.

“We are paying the price for this crisis,” a man in his 50s looking for medicine at one of the pharmacies where stocks have been running low said angrily. “We can’t work, we can’t find bread, there are no services, no money.”

In the western city of El Geneina, resident Adam Haroun said there was complete civil disobedience, with schools, stores and gas stations closed.

Large street protests took place in the cities of Atbara, Dongola, Elobeid and Port Sudan, images on social media showed.

People chanted “Don’t give your back to the army, the army won’t protect you.”

The Sudanese Professionals Association, an activist coalition that played a major role in the uprising that toppled Bashir, has called for a strike.

Western governments have condemned the coup, called for the release of the detained civilian leaders and threatened to cut off aid, which Sudan needs to recover from an economic crisis.

The United States has said it was immediately pausing delivery of $700 million in emergency support.

Sudan has been ruled for most of its post-colonial history by military leaders who seized power in coups. It had become a pariah to the West and was on a U.S. terrorism blacklist under Bashir, who hosted Osama bin Laden in the 1990s and is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for war crimes.

Since Bashir was toppled, the military shared power uneasily with civilians under a transition meant to lead to elections in 2023. The country had been on edge since last month when a failed coup plot, blamed on Bashir supporters, unleashed recriminations between the military and civilians.