Sudan General Steps Down as Transitional Leader a Day After al-Bashir’s Ouster
Only one day after Sudan’s longtime autocratic ruler, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, was ousted by his own defense minister — a close ally — the defense minister announced on state television that he was stepping down as head of the transitional government and would be replaced by yet another military leader.
The move was seen as an effort to assuage the thousands of protesters who have camped outside the country’s military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, for the last seven days, demanding that a civilian government replace Mr. al-Bashir and his military coterie.
This was the second time in two days that the protesters had forced the departure of a ruler they found unacceptable. On Friday night, demonstrators in the streets reveled at their newfound potency, but many said they would not be satisfied until the country was in the hands of civilian leaders.
“This news, it’s progress, but I cannot call it the progress we really want,” said Prof. Muawia Shaddad, an astronomer and civil society activist who is on a committee helping to organize the protests. As he spoke by telephone from Khartoum, people could be heard cheering and beeping their car horns.
The progress “we really want,” said Mr. Shaddad, would be achieved “when we see that we have got a totally civilian structure of authority and we have democracy and human rights.”
Mr. al-Bashir, the deposed president, was unpopular at home and a pariah abroad. He is wanted for trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he stands accused of overseeing the genocide in Sudan’s region of Darfur in the 2000s.
But earlier on Friday, Sudan’s new military leaders announced that they would not extradite Mr. al-Bashir for trial, and that he would instead be put on trial in Sudan — a decision that drew widespread condemnation from international human rights advocates.
After months of tense standoff and brief episodes of violence, events in Sudan moved rapidly in the past week. The defense minister, Lt. Gen. Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, had proclaimed on Thursday that he was assuming power in a transitional government that would be in place for two years.
After protesters expressed outrage and refused to disperse despite an overnight curfew, General Ibn Auf announced on Friday evening that he would be succeeded immediately by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdelrahman, the general inspector of the armed forces, as head of the transitional council.
General Ibn Auf’s resignation could point to divisions within the security forces. Mr. al-Bashir exerted power for three decades by building up competing paramilitary forces, all loyal to him.
In his announcement, however, General Ibn Auf spoke warmly of his successor. “I am stepping down from this position to select someone who’s expertise and competence and management I can trust,” he said. “And I am confident that he will take the ship to the shores of safety.”
Later in the evening, state television aired footage of General Abdelrahman being sworn in at the military council.
For decades, Mr. al-Bashir had courted popularity at home with a folksy image even as he became seen as a villainous figure abroad. He sheltered Osama bin Laden and other international terrorists in the 1990s.
But his legacy has been most forcefully shaped by accusations that he presided over a campaign of genocidal violence in western Darfur. International rights groups and celebrity activists, including the actor George Clooney, seized on his downfall to renew their longstanding demands that Mr. al-Bashir be brought before the International Criminal Court, which since 2009 has sought to arrest him in connection with atrocities in Darfur.
At a news conference early on Friday, another general, Omar Zein al-Abdeen rejected those demands, saying it would be “an ugly mark on Sudan” if the deposed leader were sent abroad. Sudan would instead put Mr. al-Bashir on trial at home, he said.
That announcement met with outrage from international human rights groups.
“Al-Bashir is subject to two arrest warrants on suspicion of being responsible for massive human rights violations amounting to the most serious of crimes,” said William Pace, the convener of the Coalition for the I.C.C., a nongovernmental organization that promotes cooperation with the court.
“Sudan, with support from the international community, must ensure that he is surrendered to the court to stand trial for these unimaginable atrocities,” he said.
Other advocates are pushing for the prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of dozens of protesters since the first antigovernment protests, over the price of bread, erupted in December.
Security forces firing rifles and shotguns killed more than 60 protesters through mid-March, before the mass demonstration in front of the army headquarters that began last week, according to a report issued this month by Physicians for Human Rights, a United States-based network of medical professionals. It described security forces dragging people from their homes and beating them, as well as entering hospitals, firing weapons and tear gas and often targeting doctors.
On Friday the United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called on those responsible to be held to account.
There remains another pressing question concerning Mr. al-Bashir: Where is he?
On Thursday General Ibn Auf, the short-lived interim leader, would only say that the deposed leader was in “a safe place.” A senior Sudanese official said he had been told that Mr. al-Bashir was being held under close guard at his residence inside the Khartoum military headquarters, where a throng of protesters is still massed at the gates.
Few Sudanese expected Mr. Bashir’s misfortune to land him in a foreign courtroom any time soon.
Allies that are not signatories to the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, like Saudi Arabia, could offer Mr. al-Bashir a comfortable exile, said Magdi el-Gizouli, a Sudan analyst at the United States Institute of Peace.
Others question whether Mr. al-Bashir is really in detention.
“Our reading is that this is basically a pretend coup,” said Murithi Mutiga, a deputy project director for the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, Kenya.
Mr. al-Bashir’s own history contains precedent for such a ruse. When he seized power in Sudan in 1989, he initially claimed to have detained Hassan al-Turabi, an Islamist leader who was seen as one of the masterminds of the coup, in an apparent effort to disguise the Islamist character of the takeover.
Mr. al-Turabi was quickly released and later emerged as one of the most powerful figures in Sudan, widely seen as the true power behind Mr. al-Bashir. They fell out in 1999 and Mr. al-Bashir cast him into prison for four years, cementing his own dominance.
News credit : Nytimes