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

Khartoum (Reuters) – Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Thursday named a new transitional council, headed by himself, 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.

Sudan’s ousted Information Minister Hamza Balloul called the announcement an extension of the coup. He said in a statement that he was “confident that the Sudanese people can defeat the coup and continue the transition.”

The Sudanese Congress Party, part of the FFC, vowed to oppose and resist the coup “at all costs.”

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

Aboulkassem Mohamed Burtum, the newly appointed council member for north Sudan, told Sky News it would apply the constitutional declaration that underlay the democratic transition. “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

Earlier on Thursday Sudanese medic Mohamed Nagi Al-Assam, who rose to prominence in the uprising against Bashir and became a vocal critic of the coup, was arrested 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.”

The union has joined other labour organisations and the FFC in calling for Saturday’s mass rallies.

Much of the international community has called for Burhan to reverse the takeover, with Western powers and the World Bank suspending economic assistance and calling into question a deal to forgive tens of billions of dollars of foreign debt.

The United Nations called Thursday’s developments “very concerning.”

Earlier on Thursday, the European Union expressed “great concern that arbitrary arrests in Khartoum and in the rest of the country are still ongoing and even increasing,” according to a statement from foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

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 (ZAIN.KW) and MTN (MTNJ.J) 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 and that the company had reconnected them immediately. It said it was working on Thursday’s order to restore all lines. The other companies could not be reached or did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In addition to Burhan and Dagalo, three other military members of the previous ruling council were retained in the new council announced on Thursday, along with one civilian representative who had been jointly selected by the military and the FFC.

Four new members representing different regions of the country were also appointed, though the representative for eastern Sudan was still to be confirmed, state media reported.