Sudanese Security Forces Arrest 3 Leading Pro-Democracy Activists

Protesters in the streets of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum in April 2019

Khartoum, Sudan / Washington — Sudanese security forces arrested demonstrators in Khartoum Wednesday, including three leading pro-democracy activists, as the World Bank and the African Union took steps to increase pressure on the leaders of Monday's military coup.

Witnesses say security forces fired tear gas at protesters and arrested them while removing their barricades in the capital. Activists from the Umma Party, Sudan's largest political group, were among the detainees.

The activists, all critics of the military takeover, have been identified asSudanese Professionals' Association leader Ismail al-Taj, Umma Party leader Sadiq al-Mahdi and a former media adviser to the prime minister, Khalid al-Silaik.

Meanwhile, the African Union suspended Sudan's involvement in the organization's activities until power is returned to a civilian government, according to an AU statement.

The World Bank said in a statement that it has "paused" financial aid to the country and "stopped processing any new operations as we closely monitor and assess the situation."

Many businesses in Sudan remain closed in response to calls for strikes, which some doctors and state oil workers said they would join in support of the ousted government. Central bank employees have also gone on strike.

On Tuesday, military chief General Abdel-Fattah Burhan defended the army's overthrow of the transitional government, saying it was necessary to avoid a civil war.

"The whole country was deadlocked due to political rivalries," Burhan said at a televised news conference in Khartoum. "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."

Deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and his wife, who had been detained Monday, were allowed to return to their home late Tuesday but were "under close surveillance," a statement issued by his office reported.

Burhan also acknowledged that "we arrested ministers and politicians but not all" and said that some would face trial for allegedly inciting a rebellion within the military.

United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said at a daily news briefing that the secretary-general's special envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, met in Sudan Wednesday with Burhan to discuss the takeover and subsequent developments. Dujarric said Perthes reiterated that the U.N. wants to "see a return to the transition process" and demanded an immediate release of all arbitrarily detained.

Dujarric said Perthes also met with Hamdok in his home.

"What we want to see ... is the complete release of Prime Minister Hamdok," Dujarric declared. "He remains under some sort of house arrest. He is not free of his movements, and he should be free of his movements."

In a statement Tuesday from the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised Hamdok's release and spoke with him late Tuesday. Blinken again called on Sudan's military to release all civilian leaders, according to the statement.

U.N. Security Council

The U.N. Security Council met privately Tuesday to discuss the situation but have so far not issued any statement condemning the coup. Some members, including Russia and China, have publicly questioned whether it is a coup and have said council members should not interfere in Sudan's domestic affairs.

But Kenya's U.N. ambassador told reporters Wednesday he hoped the council would pronounce itself now that the African Union had taken action.

"I very much hope the Security Council will consider this step by the (AU) Peace and Security Council to be a challenge to step up to the plate," Martin Kimani said.

National emergency

Burhan declared a national emergency Monday and announced the end of the joint civilian-military Sovereign Council that had run the country since August 2019, shortly after the ouster of longtime autocratic President Omar al-Bashir.

He pledged the military would turn power over to a civilian government in July 2023 after general elections are held.

The center of Khartoum near the Foreign Ministry and other government offices was quiet early Wednesday, according to journalist Mohamed Ali Fazari.

He said in an interview with VOA the relative calm in central Khartoum could be interrupted by a group of neighborhood committees planning a "march of millions" on Saturday.

"People are calling for a big demonstration, which they call the One Million March demonstration, on October 30, and also there are some calls for civil disobedience," Fazari said.

On Monday, the Sudan Doctors Committee said at least four people were killed and 80 injured when security forces opened fire on demonstrators protesting the coup. Despite the violence, more demonstrations took place Tuesday.

Global response

The Arab League was also among those calling on Sudan to stay on a path toward civilian rule.

A joint statement issued by the United States, Britain and Norway through the State Department condemned the coup and called on Sudanese security forces to immediately release all people "unlawfully detained."

"The actions of the military represent a betrayal of the revolution, the transition, and the legitimate requests of the Sudanese people for peace, justice and economic development," the statement read.

The State Department said it was suspending $700 million in financial assistance to Sudan.

In a statement Tuesday, Sudan's ambassador to the U.S., Nureldin Satti, condemned the coup "that has put an end to the civilian democratic transition in Sudan."

"I am heartened to see that my colleagues in Brussels, Paris and Geneva and New York have followed suit and condemned the military coup," Satti added. "We shall work with other colleagues in the diplomatic service and in the diaspora to resist the military coup in support of the heroic struggle of the Sudanese people to achieve the objectives of the December 19, 2018, revolution."

Hamdok, an economist and diplomat who has worked for the U.N., was named transitional prime minister in August 2019. The transition received strong support from Western countries, including the United States, which removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism list.

But Hamdok faced stiff resistance from elements of Sudan's military. On September 21, forces still loyal to Bashir used tanks to block a key bridge and attempted to seize power. The coup was put down, and dozens of soldiers were arrested.

Thousands took to the streets last week to protest the prospect of a return to military rule.

"This country is ours, and our government is civilian," protesters chanted.

Michael Atit of VOA English to Africa's South Sudan in Focus radio program and VOA's U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information also comes from AP, Reuters, and AFP.

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