By Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Friday urged Sudan’s military coup leaders to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters ahead of planned demonstrations on Saturday opposing the takeover, saying how the army reacts will be a litmus test.
“Tomorrow is going to be a real indication of what the military intentions are,” said a senior State Department official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
“We call on the security forces to refrain from any and all violence against protesters and to fully respect the citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully,” the official said.
Washington was relieved to see that ousted Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok had been allowed to return home, the official said, adding that it was not good enough because Hamdok was still under house arrest and unable to resume his work.
Sudanese General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan dissolved Hamdok’s Cabinet, and soldiers rounded up government ministers on Monday, prompting Western countries to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in desperately needed aid to the North African country.
Opponents of the coup have called for mass protests on Saturday under the slogan “Leave!” At least 11 protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces this week, and residents say they fear a full-blown crackdown.
The coup has derailed a transition meant to steer Sudan to democracy, with elections in 2023, after long-serving ruler Omar al-Bashir was toppled two years ago.
‘FACE OF BETRAYAL’
The U.S. official called Burhan “the face of turning the clock back in Sudan” and said Washington understood the skepticism of Sudan’s civilian leaders to work with him and the military but added that a full exclusion of the army was not realistic.
“He’s the face of the betrayal of the aspirations of the Sudanese people, a face of the high-jacking of the civilian institutions,” the U.S. official said, adding that the civilian leaders would be looking for assurances before bringing themselves to work with him — something he said they should do nevertheless.
“Our civilian partners won’t like to hear me say this — but it’s not realistic to think that you’re going to be able to succeed in the transition if you’ve completely excluded the military from the process,” the official said.
Burhan on Friday said a technocratic prime minister could be announced in a week and left the door open for Hamdok to return and form the new government.
The U.S. official said Washington knew that there were problems with the transition but Sudanese military leaders never hinted at a takeover in their dealings last weekend with the U.S. delegation.
Jeffrey Feltman, President Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, flew into Khartoum two days before Monday’s coup, as concerns mounted that the transition was running into trouble due to tension between the generals and civilians.
Reuters reported that Feltman warned Burhan not to take any steps against the civilian administration that was overseeing a democratic transition but the army ignored his advice.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Aurora Ellis)