Sudan’s top general has declared a state of emergency just hours after his forces arrested prime minister Abdalla Hamdok and several other senior members of the country’s transitional government as part of a coup attempt.

Speaking on state television, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan said he has dissolved the Hamdok-led government and Sudan’s Sovereign Council — a group he chairs and that has acted as the country’s collective ruling body since the ouster of long-time former president Omar al-Bashir in 2019. Burhan said he will form a new “competent” government “to rectify the revolution’s course”.

Demonstrations against the looming military takeover have been growing in the streets of the capital Khartoum and the nearby city of Omdurman. The information ministry said the military fired live rounds into a crowd of protesters that had gathered outside the army’s general command headquarters, causing “a number” of injuries. The Sudanese Doctors’ Committee has put the number of injured at at least 12.

The demonstrations followed the arrest of the prime minister earlier today, along with several government ministers and civilian members of the Sovereign Council by “joint military forces”. The information ministry said Hamdok was moved to a separate location after refusing to issue a statement endorsing the coup. The military also cut off all internet and telephone networks and stormed the state radio and television headquarters in Omdurman.

A military takeover would represent a significant setback for Sudan, which has been transitioning to democracy since al-Bashir was removed from power. It has since been run by a politically divided alliance, including members of the military, which had agreed to work to establish a national civilian government. The agreed roadmap would have seen Burhan hand the leadership of the transitional council over to a civilian in less than a month.

The coup attempt has led to swift condemnation from around the world. UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has called for the immediate release of Hamdok and the other officials, while EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has urged “all stakeholders and regional partners to put back on track the transition process”.

The US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, described today’s events as “utterly unacceptable” and warned that a military takeover would “contravene the constitutional declaration and the democratic aspirations” of the Sudanese people. Any forced changes to the transitional government would “put at risk US assistance” to the country, he said.

Only yesterday Feltman was in Sudan meeting with Hamdok and other key cabinet members, including Burhan, to reiterate Washington’s support for the democratic transition and to urge the transitional government to establish a clear timeline for it.

Rising tensions

Today’s events follow several weeks of rising tensions that have resulted in protesters in eastern Sudan blocking the passage of critical goods including fuel, medicine and wheat coming from Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast into the rest of the country. Last month, demonstrators affiliated with the Beja Congress political group blocked roads and oil pipelines to protest against elements of a peace agreement that Khartoum reached with rebel groups last year. One of the affected pipelines pumps crude from landlocked neighbour South Sudan to the Port Sudan terminal for export, and another is used to transport imported oil products from the terminal to other parts of the country.

The Sudanese government struck a deal with the protesters to allow crude exports from South Sudan to resume. But the import of oil products such as gasoil, fuel oil and gasoline remains blocked, forcing Sudan to divert incoming fuel supplies to neighbouring Red Sea ports as it has run out of storage space at Port Sudan.

Diesel cargoes have been mostly diverted to Egypt and then trucked to Khartoum,

where Sudan’s only refinery is located. The 100,000 b/d refinery runs on a combination of Sudanese and Southern Sudanese crude. Sudan’s own crude production has dwindled to just 60,000 b/d from more than 130,000 b/d 10 years ago, so it relies on its neighbour for feedstock.

The transitional government had been working on a series of IMF-recommended economic reforms intended to support the economy and reduce the country’s ballooning debt, but public discontent has been mounting since fuel subsidies were cut earlier this year. The move triggered protests and a failed coup attempt by al-Bashir loyalists on 21 September.

Hamdok said earlier this month that the current situation is the “worst and most dangerous crisis that threatens the transition”, but underlined that his government is “committed to completing the civil democratic transition and handing the country over to an elected government through free and fair elections under a democratic system”.

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