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Sudanese authorities say military coup by remnants of past regime thwarted

Cars drive along Nile Street in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, on Sept. 21. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)
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NAIROBI — Authorities in Sudan reported thwarting a dawn coup attempt on Tuesday, in what they are calling an attempt by forces loyal to the former president to disrupt the transition to democracy.

Since hundreds of thousands of people protesting in the streets led to the ouster of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in 2019, Sudan has been led by a rickety transitional government composed of civilians and military officers who overthrew the previous regime.

After years of international isolation, the new government ended the country’s pariah status with a string of economic reforms and normalized relations with Israel — all of which has lifted its U.S. designation as a state-sponsor of terrorism and paved the way for an influx of aid.

But the reports of a coup attempt reinforces the fragility of the situation in Sudan, said Brian D’Silva, a longtime analyst on Sudan and South Sudan, and indicated the persistent influence of remnants of Bashir’s regime.

The country’s ongoing economic crisis, political instability and pressing security issues — including a rise in petty crime in Khartoum — amount to a trifecta of issues for the new government, he said. And threats to the government in Sudan could have ripple effects in the rest of the Horn of Africa, much of which is in the midst of war or political crisis.

“For now, Sudan is an island of relative stability,” D’Silva said. “You basically look at the rest of the region — at Ethiopia, at Somalia, at South Sudan, at Chad … We should do our best to see the situation in Sudan remains stable.”

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said in a speech Tuesday that the attempted coup involved extensive preparation by forces loyal to Bashir, including attempts to block national roads and the closures of ports.

“What happened was a coup orchestrated by parties inside and outside the armed forces,” Hamdok said, “and it is an extension of the attempts by the remnants since the fall of the previous regime to terminate the civil democratic transition.”

He said the attempted coup called for a “complete review of the transition experience” to ensure the country is on “a path that leads to a civil democratic transition and nothing else.”

The army said in a statement that 21 officers as well as a number of soldiers were arrested in connection with the coup. A search is ongoing to capture the remainder of those involved. Videos on social media showed some tanks on the streets of Khartoum on Tuesday morning, but there were no reports of fighting in the streets or obvious signs or a coup, leading some to wonder if the government was exaggerating the seriousness of the attempt.

Yasir Arman, an adviser to Hamdok, said in an interview that the attempted coup did not become violent because there was not widespread support for it within the military. He said the effort, led by Gen. Abdel-Baqi Bakrawi in the tank unit, involved some of his officers trying to broadcast their coup message at a state-owned TV and radio station in the city of Omdurman. But they were thwarted by staff, he said, and left.

Soldiers who drove tanks on the streets of Khartoum on Tuesday morning, Arman said, were acting on orders from the army’s command to prevent bridges from being taken over by the attempted coup leaders.

Arman called the events “a wake-up call" about support among Islamist forces loyal to Bashir — who was in power for 30 years — and the extent to which they oppose the transitional government.

U.S. push for Sudan to recognize Israel falters — and puts Khartoum in a tight spot

In a briefing this month to the U.N. Security Council, special representative Volker Perthes, who also heads the U.N. transition assistance mission, said economic hardship — which includes massive inflation, trade and fiscal deficits and high rates of unemployment and poverty — continues to be a major problem in Sudan.

But because of economic reforms the government made, the country has been eligible for debt relief, which “will unlock critical financial resources to strengthen Sudan’s economy and improve social conditions.”

After the United States removed Sudan’s designation as a state-sponsor of terrorism, Congress allocated $700 million in funding for the country; and the World Bank has said it will receive $2 billion in grants.

Jonas Horner, senior Sudan analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that any successful coup would have probably meant the end of international aid dollars that the new government has been increasingly successful at getting. He said that although many in Sudan are frustrated with the government — particularly amid the ongoing economic crisis — there is still wide support for the transition process. And there are signs that some of the reforms could be working, including Sudan’s trade deficit decreasing and inflation slowing for the first time in two years — though it was still at 388 percent last month.

“The thought is that this coup attempt may have been a test balloon, to see how the streets react,” he said. “The coup attempt by armored divisions based in and around Khartoum seems to have been speedily quashed.”

Ellen Francis in London contributed to this report.

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