Sudan: Security forces fire tear gas to disperse protesters

Pro-military protesters want to dissolve the transitional cabinet, a move decried as a coup by pro-democracy protesters.

Sudanese protesters take to the streets in the capital, Khartoum, during a demonstration demanding the dissolution of the transitional government, on October 20, 2021 [Ashraf Shazly/AFP]

Sudan’s security forces have fired tear gas at pro-military protesters who blocked major roads and bridges in the capital, Khartoum, amid growing tensions between the generals and the pro-democracy movement that fuelled the uprising against former president Omar al-Bashir.

Protesters briefly blocked major roads and bridges in Khartoum on Sunday, cutting off the central area from the northern neighbourhoods.

They also cut off the Mec Nimr Bridge, which links Khartoum’s downtown with other areas of the capital, according to activist and rights defender Tahani Abbas.

The move caused traffic to clog the streets early on Sunday, the first workday of the week, especially Nile Street, a main traffic artery in Khartoum.

The souring ties between the military and civilians in the ruling government threaten Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy since the military’s removal of al-Bashir in April 2019 after nearly three decades of autocratic rule.

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said these protesters want the military to take over, replace the current cabinet with a new one, inclusive of everyone who took part in the protests that took off in December 2018.

“They are trying to expand the area of the sit-in from the presidential palace to block every single road that leads there, to put pressure on the transitional government and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to dissolve his cabinet and appoint new members that include those from the Forces of Freedom and Change, the national charter alliance,” she said.

The protests are largely a result of a split within the coalition which led anti-government protests against al-Bashir, she said.

“But not everyone in the coalition feels like they have enough representation in the government, because that coalition included armed groups, [and] opposition members who were outside the capital when protests were ongoing,” Morgan said.

“So some of them say they feel left out of government participation and they want the PM to dissolve his cabinet.”

Fears of military hijacking civilian rule

The current crisis surfaced following last month’s coup attempt.

Officials blamed al-Bashir’s loyalists for the move but the generals lashed out at the civilian part of the government, accusing politicians of seeking government posts rather than helping ease people’s economic suffering.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the ruling Sudan Sovereign Council, said that dissolving Hamdok’s government could resolve the continuing political crisis. That suggestion was rejected by hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters who took to the streets across the country on Thursday.

Pro-military protesters rallied in Khartoum earlier this month, echoing Burhan’s demands.

The protesters have since held a sit-in outside the presidential palace in the capital. Last week, they attempted to storm the cabinet headquarters as PM Hamdok met with his cabinet. Security forces dispersed them using tear gas.

On Saturday, dozens of pro-military protesters stormed the reception area of the headquarters of the country’s state-run news agency and set tyres ablaze outside the offices.

It delayed a news conference for pro-democracy activists, according to Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, director of SUNA news agency.

The development came a day after US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman met military and civilian leaders in Khartoum to find a compromise to the dispute.

Feltman “emphasised US support for a civilian democratic transition in accordance with the expressed wishes of the Sudanese people”, the US Embassy in Khartoum said.

The tensions come weeks ahead of a scheduled rotation of the leadership on the ruling sovereign council from the military to civilians, according to the constitutional declaration that established the joint government in August 2019.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies