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Sudan coup: Protests as Burhan names himself head of new Sovereign Council

Ousted information minister Hamza Balloul described the announcement as an extension of the military's coup
Burhan has denied carrying out a coup and promised elections in 2023 (AFP)

There have been protests in Sudan after the country's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan was sworn in on Thursday as head of a new transitional council he has appointed to lead the country following the coup he led last month, shrugging off domestic and international pressure to reverse the takeover.

The new 14-member Sovereign Council, of which one member is yet to be confirmed, includes civilians representing Sudan's regions, but none from the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) political coalition that had been sharing power with the military in a democratic transition since 2019.

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Burhan's deputy will remain Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti, commander of the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which has been meting out violence to civilian protesters in the weeks since the coup. Both men will keep the roles they held before the putsch.

The move is likely to harden opposition among civilian groups who have pledged to resist the takeover through a campaign of civil disobedience, strikes and mass rallies, the next of which is planned for Saturday.

Late on Thursday, protesters closed roads and burnt tires in Burri, a neighbourhood in the east of the capital Khartoum, witnesses said. 

Unverified pictures posted on social media appeared to show similar protests in other parts of the capital, Reuters reported.

The move by the military undermined its commitment to uphold transitional arrangements requiring civilian members of the council to be nominated by the FFC, the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, the European Union and Switzerland said in a statement on Friday.

It "complicates efforts to put Sudan's democratic transition back on track," they said, adding the move was "in violation" of an accord setting out the transition.

"We strongly urge against further escalatory steps," they said in the statement.

'No legitimacy'

Sudan's ousted information minister, Hamza Balloul, said the announcement was an extension of the coup and that he was confident the Sudanese people could defeat it.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a leading protest movement, said: "Burhan and his council's decisions apply only to themselves, they have no legitimacy and will be met only with contempt and resistance."

The new council also includes representatives of rebel groups that reached a peace deal with the government last year but had rejected the takeover in a statement this week.

The 25 October coup ended a power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilians set up after the overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir in 2019 that was meant to lead to elections in late 2023.

Some senior civilians have been detained and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been under house arrest.

The previous council had served as Sudan's collective head of state, alongside Hamdok's government, which ran Sudan's day-to-day affairs. 

Burhan and Hemeti had been due to hand over its leadership to a civilian in the coming months. 

'The civilians are not only Hamdok'

Mediation aimed at securing the release of detainees and a return to power sharing has stalled since the coup, as the military moved to consolidate control.

Political sources told Reuters on Thursday that there had been no progress following indirect contacts between Hamdok and the army.

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Aboulgasim Mohamed Burtum, a newly appointed council member and former member of parliament, told Sky News he hoped the new government would be well-received.

"We are civilians, the civilians are not only Hamdok," said Burtum, a supporter of Sudan's normalisation with Israel. 

However, Middle East Eye understands that Burtum is a representative - from Dongola in northern Sudan - of the supposedly banned National Congress Party (NCP). Led by Bashir, the Islamist NCP dominated Sudanese politics during the two decades preceding the 2019 revolution.

Civilian activists have told MEE that they believe the military coup and Burhan's new sovereign council mark a return to the Bashir era, with new members like Burtum and Salma Abdul Jabbar Musa committed Islamists tied to the previous regime. 

Salma Abdelgaber, a Sufi; Youssef Gad Karim from North Kordofan state; Abdelbaqi al-Zubair, representing Khartoum state; and Rajaa Nicola, a Copt, were also named as members of the new council. 

Ex-rebel leaders Malik Agar, Alhady Idris and Altaher Hagar, who signed a 2020 peace deal with the government, also secured seats. 

A representative for eastern Sudan was yet to be confirmed, state media reported.

Prior to Thursday's announcement, Burhan told Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni that he was committed to dialogue with all political forces and the quick formation of a technocratic government, Burhan's office said. 

The head of the Sudanese Armed Forces has denied carrying out a coup and promised elections in 2023.

Medic arrested

Sudanese medic Mohamed Nagi al-Assam, who was prominent in the uprising against Bashir and was a vocal critic of the coup, was arrested earlier on Thursday and taken to an unknown location, a doctors union said.

In a statement on Assam's arrest, the union said resistance would continue "until the coup is brought down and its leaders are put on trial".

Much of the international community has called on Burhan to reverse the takeover, with western powers and the World Bank suspending economic assistance and saying a deal to write off tens of billions of dollars of foreign debt is at risk.

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The United Nations called Thursday's developments "very concerning." 

In a closed-door briefing to the UN Security Council, UN Sudan envoy Volker Perthes was "very frank in his assessment that the window now is closing for dialogue and for peaceful resolution," the UK's UN ambassador Barbara Woodward told reporters.

The civil disobedience movement has been hampered by a blackout of mobile internet access across Sudan since 25 October.

A judge on Thursday issued a second instruction to telecoms firms Zain and MTN and local providers Sudatel and Canar to restore connections, pending the announcement of any damages to be paid to subscribers.

In a statement to Reuters, Zain said the original order only applied to some accounts which the company reconnected immediately. 

It said it was working on Thursday's order to restore all lines. Other companies could not be reached or did not respond to requests for comment.