Sudan Leaders Say They Thwarted Coup Attempt by Loyalists of Former Dictator
NAIROBI, Kenya — Sudanese authorities said they thwarted an attempted coup by loyalists of the deposed dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Tuesday, the latest sign of instability in an African nation battling persistent economic hardship under a fragile transitional government.Soldiers tried to seize control of a state media building in the city of Omdurman, across the Nile from the capital, Khartoum, but they were rebuffed and arrested, Sudanese officials said.Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok described it as a near miss for Sudan’s turbulent transition to democracy, which started in 2019 with the ouster of Mr. Bashir, the longtime ruler. The prime minister blamed the failed coup on Bashir loyalists, both military and civilian.“What happened is an orchestrated coup by factions inside and outside the armed forces,” Mr. Hamdok said. “This is an extension of the attempts by remnants since the fall of the former regime to abort the civilian democratic transition.”The possibility of another coup has haunted Sudan’s transitional government since 2019, when Mr. Bashir was overthrown in a military takeover prompted by widespread popular protests.Disgruntled officers have since hatched several plots, but all were foiled before they could come to fruition. Tuesday was the first time that an attempted takeover had spilled onto the streets, said Amjad Farid, a former deputy chief of staff to the prime minister.It underscored the urgent need to get Sudan’s military under full civilian control, he said.“There will be no stability without civilian oversight over all the state apparatus, including the military and intelligence agencies,” Mr. Farid said. “A genuine reform process needs to start now.”The thwarted coup was the latest drama in an increasingly turbulent part of the world. Ethiopia is embroiled in a vicious civil war in its northern Tigray region; Somalia is torn by power struggles between its president and prime minister, and the international isolation of Eritrea has deepened with American economic sanctions, imposed last month, against the country’s army chief.More broadly, it is part of an unusual surge in attempted putsches in Africa. On Sept. 6, the military seized power in Guinea, the third West African country to experience a violent transfer of power this year.Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, a body of civilian and military leaders overseeing the country’s transition to democracy, issued a statement insisting the situation was under control. But the dramatic events, which saw tanks rolling through downtown Khartoum early Tuesday, were a reminder of the deep political fissures that threaten the transition.Some military officers are unhappy with plans to send Mr. al-Bashir, currently in jail in Khartoum, to stand trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He faces charges including genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur in the 2000s.The Sovereignty Council, which is headed by the army chief, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, did not specify how the coup attempt had been foiled or whether it had involved any violence.The military said that 21 officers and an unspecified number of soldiers had been detained, and a search for others was ongoing.Two officials with the Forces for Freedom and Change, a coalition of civil and political groups that led the uprising against Mr. al-Bashir in 2019, said the attempt had been orchestrated by the military commander in charge of the Omdurman region.It started at about 3 a.m. when officers tried, but apparently failed, to read a statement on the state radio station. It was not immediately clear what the statement would have said.The prime minister accused the coup plotters of laying the ground for their actions by stoking unrest in eastern Sudan in recent days. This week, members of the Beja tribe blocked Port Sudan, the biggest port, and cut off highways leading to the city.By midmorning, traffic was reported to be flowing normally in central Khartoum and the authorities said they had begun to question suspected mutineers. Street protests against the attempted coup erupted in several cities, including Port Sudan.The swift return to normalcy in Khartoum belied broader worries about Sudan, where the euphoric scenes of Mr. Bashir’s ouster in 2019 have given way to a sense of unease nourished by successive crises.Public confidence in Mr. Hamdok’s government has been undermined by persistent economic hardship — the spark for the protests that toppled Mr. al-Bashir.Some Sudanese also worry that the army is not truly willing to share power.In November, the army chief of staff is expected to hand over leadership of the Sovereignty Council to Mr. Hamdok — a largely ceremonial post, but nonetheless one that signifies full civilian control of Sudan for the first time in decades.Last year, Mr. Hamdok survived an assassination attempt when gunfire struck his convoy as he traveled to work in Khartoum.Although the United States lifted decades-old economic sanctions against Sudan last year in return for its government’s agreeing to recognize Israel, high inflation and soaring unemployment have driven popular discontent.Tough economic changes demanded by the International Monetary Fund to stem inflation, which is running at more than 300 percent a year, and to help the country qualify for new loans, have contributed to the sense of unease.