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President Joe Biden said Thursday that the United States stands with peaceful protesters in Sudan who are demonstrating against Monday's military coup. On the ground, at least 11 protesters have been killed. The United Nations Security Council also called for a restoration of the civilian-military shared transitional government. Nick Schifrin has the latest.
President Biden said today that the United States stands with peaceful protesters in Sudan who are demonstrating against Monday's military coup. And the U.N. Security Council called for a restoration of the civilian-military shared transitional government.
On the ground, at least 11 protesters have been killed.
Nick Schifrin has the latest.
In central Khartoum, weeping, and wrath, under the shroud, Mohamed Abdelsalam, killed this week by a military sniper during anti-military protests, his mother's heart burned and broken.
Woman (through translator):
May you suffer as much as you have made us suffer.
Activists' anger pointed at the top.
Tamam Alaaqeb, Member of Kobar Resistance Committee (through translator): I accuse General Burhan personally. He killed our brother and continues to destabilize the security of the Sudanese people.
On Monday, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the nation's top general, deposed the transitional government that he led with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok just weeks before Burhan was supposed to step down.
At first, General Burhan detained Hamdok himself.
Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, Chair, Sovereignty Council of Sudan (through translator): The prime minister was in his house. However, we were afraid that he'd be in danger, so he has been placed with me at my home.
The transitional government and a new constitution was the negotiated settlement of the 2019 overthrow of longtime autocratic leader and accused war criminal Omar al-Bashir.
Military and civilian leaders led the country together, and were supposed to transition to the first Sudanese democracy in three decades. That transition has been replaced with soldiers on patrol. The military even cut off the Internet.
So I spoke with activist Muzan Alneel by phone.
Muzan Alneel, Activist:
A total state of civil disobedience is ongoing in the country. The whole country is shut down by protesters right now.
Shops are shuttered, after protesters called for a nationwide strike. They have also filled the streets to denounce the return to autocracy and set up barricades to try and keep soldiers out of residential neighborhoods.
The military responded with force. Soldiers targeted protesters with live ammunition. Pro-democracy demonstrators ended up bloodied and beaten at this Khartoum hospital.
The military in Sudan has no limits on — in how far they will go to protect their ruling. They will go into massacres, displacing people, and into wars just to protect their ruling.
Today, President Biden said in a statement: "The Sudanese people must be allowed to protest peacefully, and the civilian-led transitional government must be restored."
But the protesters who plan a massive demonstration this Saturday say that 2019 transitional power-sharing deal won't be good enough this time.
The one thing that all the protesters agree on right now is that there is no place for the military in the coming government. It is the military generals who cannot run the country without us, not the other way around.
And we have compromised two years ago, and we showed that this took us no place. And we will not compromise again.
And joining us now is Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, which includes Sudan.
Ambassador Feltman, welcome back to the "NewsHour."
Let's start with the activist and what she just said. The street does not want a return to the 2019 power-sharing deal. Do you hear their concerns, given that the 2019 deal ended up in this coup?
Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa: I think we all understand their demands, their concerns.
General Burhan and the Army, they betrayed the spirit of the 2019 revolution, and they betrayed the letter and the spirit of that constitutional document. This was supposed to be a military-civilian partnership. The civilians did not get to choose the military leaders who were their partners. And the military was not supposed to be choosing their civilian partners.
This week, General Burhan and his forces attempted to choose the military — civilian partners that they were going to be dealing with. And that is simply a violation, a betrayal of the aspirations of the Sudanese people.
But what are you asking the military to do? Are you accepting if they simply go back to the 2019 status quo? Or do you want more? Do you want a more civilian-led government?
It's not realistic to think that you're going to sideline the military entirely from the transitional — from the transitional period.
But, certainly, you have to have a — more of a level playing field between the civilians and the military if there's ever going to be the start of a conversation again, which we actually hope that there will be.
I think the General Burhan is going to discover that it's not quite it's so easy as he and his forces may think to return Sudan to its dark past. I mean, you heard those activists. They are committed to making sure that this does not work, that the military does not control the country, that they don't go back to the type of pariah regime that was under President Bashir. So there's a street issue.
And then you have also seen incredible regional and international pressure on General Burhan. Yesterday, the African Union suspended Sudan from all African Union activities. The Security Council has spoken. A number of international leaders have spoken.
So it's not just the United States that's raising its voice opposing the military takeover. It's the street, it's the region, it's the neighbors. And I think that General Burhan is going to discover that, in fact, it's not so easy to turn back the clock, and that he's going to need the type of real, genuine partnership with the international community and with the Sudanese people that his action Monday has so deeply damaged.
But we have not seen the yet full-throated condemnation from some of the Sudanese military's most ardent supporters, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
What are you doing to try and convince those countries to end their support?
We have had conversations at a number of levels with those — with the countries that you mentioned, as well as a number of others. And there is a shared concern about stability in Sudan, a shared concern about the potential for violence, particularly on Saturday, with the mass demonstrations planned.
There's — but you're right that there are a number of countries that are more comfortable than they should be with the idea of a strongman military rule. But, again, I think they're going to see that it's not going to be as easy as General Burhan or they may think.
I mean, look at the economic situation. Sudan was in the process of restructuring something like $85 billion worth of debt. I don't think that the countries you mentioned are going to be able to replace the international community, the international financial institutions in dealing with the economic issues that Sudan faces.
There was excitement in the international community, a real desire to help overcome the legacy of the Bashir years. And that excitement, that enthusiasm, those helping hands are — have pulled back in a way that the other countries are going to take notice.
You spoke with General Burhan in person just hours before he launched the coup.
There have been these concerns that he would be willing to launch this coup for weeks. Is the fact that he took those actions literally just hours after you left a sign that the U.S. has lost diplomatic leverage?
Well, of course, I have been thinking about this ever since Monday.
I landed in Doha, flying from Khartoum, turned on my phone and saw what was happening in Khartoum. And so I have been replaying the conversations I had with General Burhan. I saw him twice, two-and-a-half-hours on Saturday, an hour or so on Sunday. On Sunday, it was one-on-one.
And he was talking to me about his concerns with the transition, what he saw as stumbling blocks in the transition, problems in the transition, disarray on the civilian side, the lack of some institutions.
But when I look back now, I realize that concern was not a concern in good faith, because, if he was really concerned about the civilians, and the civilian — and the civilian part of the transition, he wouldn't have gone out to take over, to depose the civilian — all the civilian institutions, to try to hand-select the people who he would want to work with.
I will say that he and General Hemeti, his sidekick in this…
The leader of the paramilitary force, General Hemeti.
Both — exactly, the rapid security forces, which is sort of the parallel army.
They never hinted to me that they would take matters into their own hands and force the dissolution of the Cabinet through military means. Instead, what they did is, they engaged with us on a number of mechanisms that would have addressed their ostensible concerns with how the transition was going.
But we really believed that there were mechanisms, in accordance with that constitutional declaration, that could have addressed what the military said were their concerns and what some of the civilian said were concerns as well.
And, eventually, I think we will probably have to go back to some of those mechanisms. But the first step is that there has to be an end to the emergency decree, a release of all the detainees. There has to be sort of a return to that — to the civilians being able to exercise the civilian responsibilities of the transition, without fear of military takeover and arrest.
Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, we will have to leave it there. Thank you very much.
Watch the Full Episode
Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
Layla Quran is a general assignment producer for PBS NewsHour. She was previously a foreign affairs reporter and producer.
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