Sudanese security forces have fired tear gas to break up a demonstration in the capital Khartoum held in support of a civilian-led transition to democracy.
An attempted coup last week, which officials blamed on soldiers loyal to the previous government of Omar al-Bashir, laid bare divisions between military and civilian groups sharing power during a transition that is meant to run to 2023 and lead to elections.
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An estimated 20,000 people, many of whom came by train from Atbara and Madani, gathered in the capital on Thursday.
A crowd of thousands celebrated the arrival of the Madani train, climbing on top, waving national flags and chanting, “the army is Sudan’s army, not Burhan’s army” – a reference to General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of Sudan’s military and its governing Sovereign Council.
“We came today to block any coup and achieve civilian rule,” said Eman Salih, a 22-year-old university student. “We will not allow the military to control our revolution.”
Security forces later fired volleys of tear gas to break up the gathering, according to the Reuters news agency.
“The objective of these marches is to protect Sudan’s democratic transition and there is no way to achieve that without ending any partnership with the military council,” said a statement issued by the Sudanese Professionals Association, which had called for the rallies earlier this week.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the civilian face of the Sudanese government, said on Thursday he is committed to addressing the issues faced by his nation’s democratic transition, adding that “democracy” and inclusiveness are his highest priority.
Speaking during a high-level virtual meeting with foreign leaders hosted by the United Nations, Hamdok said holding free elections at the end of the transitional period is of most importance, “to allow the Sudanese people to choose a government of their choice”.
“The Sudanese people, and rightly so, have very high expectations about the revolution and about the changes, but this is a legacy of 30 years. You cannot undo it overnight,” he said.
After last week’s coup attempt, civilian officials accused military leaders of overstepping their boundaries, while generals criticised civilian management of the economy and political process, saying that their forces were neglected and disrespected.
The military removed al-Bashir in April 2019 after months of protests triggered by an economic crisis. It then signed a power-sharing deal with the civilian Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition.
The FFC supported Thursday’s demonstrations, which converged on the central Khartoum headquarters of a task force working to dismantle the Bashir administration.