CAIRO – U.S. President Joe Biden called Thursday for Sudan's people to be allowed to protest peacefully as the number of those killed in recent demonstrations against the military coup rose to nine.
Biden's statement was the latest from the international community urging the generals to restore the civilian-led transitional government and release those detained after their takeover earlier this week. But there were signs the military was not backing down.
The coup's leader, a top general, fired at least six ambassadors, including the envoys to the U.S., the European Union and France, after they condemned the military’s takeover of the country, a military official said Thursday.
Their dismissal came hours before the U.N. Security Council issued its first statement on recent events in Sudan, calling for the civilian transitional government to be restored to power and for those detained during the coup to be released.
The diplomats had pledged their support for the now-deposed government of Prime Minister Abddalla Hamdok. Also fired by Gen Abdel-Fattah Buran late Wednesday were the Sudanese ambassadors to Qatar, China and the U.N. mission in Geneva, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media. The state-run Sudan TV also reported the dismissals.
The ambassadors were fired two days after Burhan dissolved the transitional government and detained the prime minister, many government officials and political leaders in a coup condemned by the U.S. and the West. The military allowed Hamdok to return home Tuesday after international pressure for his release.
The U.N. statement released Thursday was approved by all 15 members from the council but went through several revisions, diplomats said, mainly to address objections from Russia, which did not want to “condemn” the military takeover as originally proposed in the British-drafted text - or use the word “coup.”
Burhan has said the military forces were compelled to take over because of quarrels between political parties that he claimed could lead to civil war. However, the coup also comes just weeks before Burhan would have had to hand over the leadership of the Sovereign Council, the ultimate decision-maker in Sudan, to a civilian, in a step that would reduce the military's hold on the country. The council has military and civilian members. Hamdok's government ran Sudan's daily affairs.
The coup threatens to halt Sudan’s fitful transition to democracy, which began after the 2019 ouster of long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir and his Islamist government in a popular uprising.
The takeover came after weeks of mounting tensions between military and civilian leaders over the course and pace of that process.
Ali bin Yahia, Sudan’s former envoy in Geneva under the transitional government, was defiant after his dismissal.
“I will spare no efforts to reverse the situation, explain facts and resist the blackout imposed by coup officials on what is happened my beloved country,” he said in video comments posted online.
Nureldin Satti, the Sudanese envoy to the U.S., said Tuesday he was working with Sudanese diplomats in Brussels, Paris, Geneva and New York to resist the coup to achieve the aims of the uprising against al-Bashir.
Activists circulated videos on social media showing mostly empty streets in the capital, with many stores except for groceries and bakeries closed on Thursday. Earlier, protesters called for a national strike to pressure the military to relinquish power.
Earlier this week, a group of over 30 Sudanese diplomats in and outside Sudan condemned the military’s takeover in a joint statement, saying that the ambassadors in Belgium, Switzerland and France had pledged their continued allegiance to the Hamdok government.
In another development, Burhan fired Adlan Ibrahim, head of the country’s Civil Aviation Authority, according to the official. Adlan’s dismissal came after flights in and out of Khartoum’s international airport were supposed to resume Wednesday after they stopped amid the confusion.
The military has also reopened some bridges that were closed earlier by protesters.
Protesters, meanwhile, took to the streets of Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman late Wednesday in continued demonstrations against the coup amid heavy security across the capital. By Thursday morning, security forces had cleared several makeshift stone barricades that protesters had set up in a few residential neighborhoods.
Hundreds of people marched on in a funeral procession on Thursday in Khartoum for one of the protesters.
One man was killed and two were seriously injured in Thursday's protest gatherings, according to a statement by the Sudanese Doctors' Committee. Another young man died in a Khartoum hospital late Wednesday of wounds sustained in Monday’s protests and two others who were shot in the head earlier this week died Thursday, activist Nazim Siraj said.
This raised to nine the number of protesters killed since Monday.
Al least 170 people have been wounded since the military’s takeover, according to a statement issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA. Most of the cases, including moderate and severe ones, are lying in Khartoum hospitals, which are battling a shortage in surgical and other medical supplies as the movement in the capital remains restricted by roadblocks, OCHA said.
Also on Thursday, the Friends of Sudan Group, which consists of several EU states as well as the U.S. and the U.N., issued a statement saying the country's future is at risk.
“The actions of the security forces deeply jeopardize Sudan’s hard-won political, economic and legal gains made over the past two years and put Sudan’s security, stability and reintegration into the international community at risk,” read the statement issued by the alliance formed after Bashir’s ouster in 2019.
Biden also echoed the fears that the country's economy could fall victim to the military's designs on power.
“We believe strongly in Sudan’s economic potential and the promise of its future — if the military and those who oppose change do not hold it back,” he said in a statement.
Associated Press writers Noha el-Hennawy in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report.