After three decades of rule, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been arrested and forced from power in a military coup.
Bashir’s government has been dissolved, and a military council has assumed control for two years to oversee a transition of power, Sudanese Defense Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf said in a televised statement Thursday.
The President’s removal comes amid a popular uprising against his rule that has seen thousands take to the streets across the northeastern African country. The largely peaceful protests have escalated in recent days as armed government groups engaged in deadly clashes.
As news of Bashir’s ouster spread, people flooded the streets of Khartoum, the capital, in celebration, according to social media reports and witnesses on the ground.
Those jubilant scenes came to an abrupt halt after the coup announcement, however, according to a CNN stringer on the ground. Chanting against the defense minister began shortly after the military’s announcement.
“The people want to topple Ibn Auf,” a crowd chanted in Khartoum on Thursday.
A three-month state of emergency has been declared, and a one-month curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. put in place. Airspace and crossings will be closed for 24 hours, and medical facilities will be secured.
Sudan’s Cabinet, its National Assembly and municipal bodies have been dissolved, and the country’s constitution suspended, Ibn Auf said. The judiciary, public prosecution, embassies and diplomatic entities will continue to function as normal.
All political prisoners, detained by security services since the wave of anti-government demonstrations gripped the nation in December, will be released, the defense minister added.
‘With the blessings of God’
At 3:30 a.m. Thursday, Bashir was visited by the heads of his four main security apparatuses and was told “there was no alternative” but for him to step down, two senior military sources with direct knowledge of the conversation told CNN.
According to the sources, Bashir responded by saying “with the blessings of God,” an expression of acquiescence in Islamic tradition.
Bashir is under house arrest, according to sources. His personal guard has been replaced and is under close watch, sources added. Sudanese Prime Minister Mohamed Taher Ayala and Ahmed Haroun, the head of the ruling National Congress Party, were among dozens of officials who were also arrested, a top military official with direct knowledge of the arrests told CNN.
CNN’s stringer in Khartoum witnessed military troops storming the Islamic Movement headquarters, the main component of the ruling party.
The Sudanese Intelligence Agency said it ordered the release of all political detainees, the official Sudan News Agency, or SUNA, reported Thursday. More than 3,000 people have been arrested since protests began in December, based on testimony CNN gathered from activists, lawyers and victims.
In pictures: Sudan in transition
But a group that has been leading the protests, the Sudanese Professionals Association, or SPA, rejected the “coup declaration,” and has called on people to press on with demonstrations and to stage a sit-in outside military headquarters. The group said protests would continue until “power is handed over to a civilian transitional government.”
“The regime has conducted a military coup to reproduce the same faces and entities that our great people have revolted against,” the SPA, an umbrella organization of doctors, lawyers and journalists, said in a statement.
“Those who destroyed the country and killed its people want to appropriate every drop of blood shed by the great people of Sudan during their revolution,” it said.
“This is a game on the Sudanese people. The street refuses totally the announcement by Ibn Auf,” activist Omar al-Neel told CNN. “All Sudanese people are in the street and demanding the downfall of the regime and not recycling the same people.”
On Friday morning, the UN Security Council is set to discuss developments in Sudan in closed door discussions, according to the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations.
Jonathan Allen, UK deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said Thursday that “the main message again is there must be no violence against those protesters.”
“The change proposed by the military isn’t enough. It’s not enough to say that it’s a two-year transition to civilian rule is adequate,” Allen said. “We need to see much faster transition. We need to see civilian rule now. That’s what the protesters have been calling for, and that is what we need to do.”
US State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino also said on Thursday that “the Sudanese people should determine who leads them and their future,” and that they “should be allowed to do so sooner than two years from now.”
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry has issued a statement in support of the developments in Sudan, emphasizing it stands by “all choices made by the brotherly people of Sudan,” and saying it has “full confidence” in the ability of the people of Sudan and “their loyal national army in overcoming this critical state.” The Egyptian army played a pivotal role in the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak and in the 2013 coup against his successor Mohamed Morsy.
Fall of a dictator
Bashir took control after a coup in 1989 and became President in 1993. He stands accused of conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the country’s Darfur region, and was nearly arrested in 2015 while visiting South Africa. He faces five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes in connection to Sudanese military actions in Darfur.
The International Criminal Court has issued two arrest warrants for him and considers him to be “at large.” On Thursday, Human Rights Watch called on Sudanese authorities to execute those warrants.
Protests started over the rising costs of living but escalated into a push for Bashir’s removal from office, with mass rallies and sit-ins outside the presidential compound and army headquarters. In February, Bashir declared a yearlong state of emergency in response to the protests.
This week’s sit-in had grown into one of the biggest rallies since the uprising began, with crowds braving temperatures of more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) to camp out in the streets of the capital.
On Tuesday, members of the Sudanese army moved in to protect protesters in Khartoum after national security forces attempted to break up the third day of a mass sit-ins.
Earlier in the week, the mood among protesters outside the compound had verged on victorious, with people chanting “thawra” (revolution) and waving the national flag aloft as soldiers watched footage from the scene showed.
Photos captured protesters sitting atop military vehicles and handing out water bottles as others posed for selfies with members of the armed forces, flashing V-for-victory gestures.
A CNN team visited Khartoum undercover last month, where it heard reports of possible war crimes by security forces attempting to quell demonstrations.
The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors said 22 people, including five soldiers, were killed in mass protests since Saturday.
Sudan’s government has reported some 32 fatalities since the protests began this year, including three security personnel, but doctors and opposition activists suggest the toll is 78, excluding the military.
Sudan has sought to censor news coverage of protests, and journalists reporting on the demonstrations risk life imprisonment and the death penalty.
CNN’s Anna Cardovillis, Eliza Mackintosh, Tamara Qiblawi, Kareem Khadder, Nada Altaher, Kara Fox and Richard Roth contributed to this report.