Sudan's army chief appoints new ruling council, led by himself

·4 min read
FILE PHOTO: General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan holds news conference in May

By Khalid Abdelaziz

CAIRO (Reuters) - Sudan's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan was sworn in on Thursday as head of a new transitional council he appointed to lead the country following the military takeover late last month, shrugging off domestic and international pressure to reverse the coup.

The new 14-member Sovereign Council, for 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.

Burhan's deputy will remain Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), with both men keeping roles they held before the coup.

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 burned 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.

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 Oct. 25 takeover 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 Dagalo had been due to hand over its leadership to a civilian in the coming months.

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 https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/sudans-military-rulers-draw-bashir-era-veterans-tighten-grip-2021-11-11. Political sources told Reuters on Thursday that there had been no progress in indirect contacts between Hamdok and the army.

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," he said.

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. Burhan 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 forgive tens of billions of dollars of foreign debt is at risk.

The United Nations called Thursday's developments "very concerning." In a closed-door briefing to the U.N. Security Council, U.N. Sudan envoy Volker Perthes had been "very frank in his assessment that the window now is closing for dialogue and for peaceful resolution," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward told reporters.

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

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.

Alongside Burhan and Dagalo, three other military members of the previous ruling council were retained in the new council, as well as one civilian representative jointly selected by the military and the FFC.

Four new members representing Sudan's regions were appointed, though the representative for eastern Sudan was yet to be confirmed, state media reported.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Nafisa Eltahir, Ahmed Hagagy, Mahmoud Mourad and Michelle Nichols; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Peter Graff, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)

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