World Bank halts Sudan operations in blow to coup leaders, strike calls gain support


Khartoum (Reuters) – The World Bank halted disbursements for operations in Sudan on Wednesday in response to the military’s seizure of power from a transitional government, while state oil company workers, doctors and pilots joined civilian groups opposing the takeover.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets since Monday’s coup led by armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and several have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Burhan has dismissed the joint civilian-military council set up to steer the country to democratic elections following the overthrow of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising in April 2019.

He said he acted to stop the country slipping into civil war, but the World Bank decision to pause payments and stop processing new operations is a setback to his plans for one of Africa’s poorest countries.

After isolation from the international financing system across three decades of Bashir’s rule, Sudan achieved full re-engagement with the bank in March and gained access to $2 billion in financing.

“I am greatly concerned by recent events in Sudan, and I fear the dramatic impact this can have on the country’s social and economic recovery and development,” World Bank President David Malpass said in a statement from Washington.

Abdalla Hamdok, prime minister in the deposed transitional government, had touted World Bank re-engagement as a major accomplishment and was depending on the funding for several large development projects.

The government had instituted harsh economic reforms that succeeded in achieving rapid arrears clearance and debt relief and renewed financing from the World Bank and IMF.

An IMF spokeswoman said the fund was monitoring developments but it was “premature” to comment.

March in Millions

Scattered protests took place in Khartoum on Wednesday and intensified at night across the capital, although no new bloodshed was reported.

In one Khartoum neighbourhood, a Reuters journalist saw soldiers and armed people in civilian clothes removing barricades erected by protesters. A few hundred metres away, youths built barricades again minutes later.

“We want civilian rule. We won’t get tired,” one said.

In Bahri across the river, witnesses told Reuters protesters were met with tear gas and heard gunshots on Wednesday evening as protesters came out across the capital’s three cities.

In the northeastern city of Atbara, protesters marched and chanted, “Down with the military regime”.

Neighbourhood committees announced plans for protests leading to what they said would be a “march of millions” on Saturday.

Workers at state oil company Sudapet said they were joining the civil disobedience campaign to back the stalled democratic transition.

Pilots from national carrier Sudan Airways have gone on strike, their union said, as have pilots from local carriers Badr and Tarco Airlines. Central Bank employees have also stopped work in a further setback for the functioning of the economy.

Doctors belonging to the Unified Doctors’ Office group of unions also said they were striking. The doctors were one of the driving forces behind the uprising that brought down Bashir.

Power-sharing between the military and civilians had been increasingly strained over several issues, including whether to send Bashir and others to the International Criminal Court, where they are wanted for alleged atrocities in Darfur. Military commanders now leading Sudan also served in Darfur.

Speaking on Tuesday at his first news conference since announcing the takeover, Burhan said the army had no choice but to sideline politicians who he said were inciting people against the armed forces.

U.N. Special Representative Volker Perthes met Burhan on Wednesday and told him the United Nations wants to see a return to the transition process and the immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

Perthes also met Hamdok at his residence, where he remains under guard, Dujarric said. Hamdok was detained on Monday.

The European Union’s Foreign Relations Commissioner Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter that he had spoken with Hamdok and expressed support for a civilian-led transition.

Serious Risk

Events in Sudan – Africa’s third largest country – mirror those in several other Arab states where the military has tightened its grip following uprisings.

Willow Berridge, a Sudan expert at Newcastle University, said it would be difficult for Burhan and the army to suppress street mobilisations against the takeover because of the presence of resistance committees in many neighbourhoods.

“My greatest fear is that he will fall back even further on the only legitimacy he can depend on – violence. It is a very serious risk,” Berridge said.

Burhan has close ties to states that worked to roll back Islamist influence and contain the impact of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

While Western countries have denounced the takeover in Sudan – which has a history of military coups – those Arab countries have mainly called for all parties to show restraint.

Burhan met with Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Khartoum Ali Bin Hasan Jaafar on Wednesday to discuss efforts to resolve the situation through dialog “among all relevant parties”, Sudan’s armed forces Facebook page said.

Burhan has also been at the forefront of Sudan’s steps to normalise relations with Israel.

Sharon Bar-Li, deputy director-general for Africa at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said on Tuesday it was still too early to know if developments in Sudan will have consequences for the normalisation.

The African Union said it has suspended Sudan’s participation in all activities until the restoration of the civilian-led authority.

“Right now, because the military now has power, they have halted the path and taken us back to square one, but that doesn’t work for us,” said Sudanese citizen Mohamed Ali.

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