The United States has “strongly” condemned the leaders of Sudan’s military coup as the United Nations planned an emergency meeting on the crisis and protests entered a second day.
After clashes between pro-democracy protesters and security forces left at least seven people dead on Monday, demonstrators took to the streets of the capital Khartoum again on Tuesday morning chanting “Returning to the past is not an option”.
The protesters found support from US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who called for the immediate return to civilian rule and the release of the detained prime minister.
“The United States strongly condemns the actions of the Sudanese military forces,” he said in a statement late on Monday, as he expressed grave concern about reports that security forces used live ammunition against protesters.
“We firmly reject the dissolution of the civilian-led transitional government and its associated institutions and call for their immediate restoration,” said Blinken, whose government has suspended $700m in aid to Sudan.
Tension had been mounting in Sudan since what the civilian government described as a failed coup attempt on 21 September, and disagreements within the country’s “sovereign council” in which power was shared between civilians leaders and the military.
Sudan’s armed forces moved to end the impasse on Sunday by detaining the civilian leaders, including prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, who have been heading the country’s transition to full civilian rule following the April 2019 overthrow of long-time autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir.
The military also declared a state of emergency, and large parts of the internet and mobile phone network were cut off in the immediate aftermath of the coup.
Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who had been head of the “sovereign council”, justified the seizure of power and the dissolution of the country’s transitional government by saying infighting between the military and civilian parties had threatened the country’s stability. The military was meant to have passed leadership of the joint sovereign council to a civilian figure in the coming months.
Pro-democracy protesters immediately took to the streets in protest after Burhan’s speech, blocking streets and setting fire to tyres in the capital Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman.
They chanted “The people are stronger, stronger” and “Retreat is not an option!” as they clashed with security forces, who used teargas and live rounds to try to disperse the crowds.
The information ministry said soldiers “fired live bullets on protesters rejecting the military coup outside the army headquarters”.
Video shared on social media, however, showed people running from the sound of gunfire, and one man being treated for what looked like a gunshot wound.
Among the crowds converging on central Khartoum was Ahmed Osman, who said he was a relative of one of the ministers detained.
“I’ve been on the street since 2am when I learned about the disappearance of the minister. We don’t know to where they took him. He’s always been target of the Islamists,” said the young man, who had wrapped himself in the Sudanese flag. “It’s our country, isn’t it? We have to reject what’s going on.”
At least seven people have been killed, according to a health ministry statement late on Monday.
UN secretary-general António Guterres said in a statement the detention of the civilian leaders was “unlawful” and condemned “the ongoing military coup d’etat”.
The UN demanded the Sudanese prime minister’s “immediate release” and diplomats in New York said on Monday night that the security council was expected to meet to discuss the crisis on Tuesday.
The European Union, African Union and Arab League also expressed concern.
Jonas Horner from the International Crisis Group think tank called it an “existential moment for both sides … This kind of intervention… really puts autocracy back on the menu”.
Hamdok had previously described splits in the transitional government as the “worst and most dangerous crisis” facing the transition.
Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades, is in jail in Khartoum following a corruption conviction. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of genocide over the civil war in Darfur.
But UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned Sudan risked returning to oppression.
“It would be disastrous if Sudan goes backwards after finally bringing an end to decades of repressive dictatorship,” Bachelet said.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.