Sudan’s ruling general said that the prime minister he deposed in a coup was being held for his own safety and would likely be released soon.
But he warned that other members of the dissolved government could face trial as protests against the coup continued in the streets.
A day after the military seized power in a move widely denounced by the international community, pro-democracy demonstrators blocked roads in the capital with makeshift barricades and burning tyres.
Troops fired on crowds a day earlier, killing four protesters, according to doctors.
The takeover came after weeks of mounting tensions between military and civilian leaders over the course and the pace of Sudan’s transition to democracy. It threatened to derail that process, which has progressed in fits and starts since the overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising two years ago.
The United Nations Security Council was to discuss the situation in Sudan at a closed-door meeting later on Tuesday.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged world powers to come together to act decisively at the council, saying such unity was needed to confront an “epidemic of coups d’etat” recently.
In his second public appearance since seizing power, Gen Abdel-Fattah Burhan said on Tuesday that the military was forced to step in to resolve a growing political crisis that he alleged could have led to civil war.
But the coup came less than a month before Gen Burhan was supposed to hand the leadership of the Sovereign Council that runs the country to a civilian — a step that would have decreased the military’s hold on power.
“The whole country was deadlocked due to political rivalries,” Gen Burhan told a televised news conference.
“The experience during the past two years has proven that the participation of political forces in the transitional period is flawed and stirs up strife.”
Of the slew of senior government officials detained in Monday’s coup, some tried to incite a rebellion within the armed forces, Gen Burhan alleged, saying they would face trial. Others who are found “innocent” would be freed, he said.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was being held at Gen Burhan’s home, the general said, and was in good health. He added that the politician would be released “today or tomorrow”.
But shortly after Gen Burhan spoke, Mr Hamdok’s office issued a statement, voicing concerns about the safety of the premier and other detained officials. It did not say where the politician was being held.
The statement accused the military leaders of acting in concert with Islamists, who have argued for a military government, and other politicians linked to the now-dissolved National Congress Party, which dominated Sudan during Mr al-Bashir’s Islamist-backed rule.
Western governments and the UN have condemned the coup and called for the release of Mr Hamdok and other senior officials.
US President Joe Biden’s administration announced the suspension of 700 million dollars in emergency assistance to Sudan and said on Tuesday it was looking at sending stronger signals to the generals.
“They should first and foremost cease any violence against innocent civilians, and … they should release those who have been detained and they should get back on a democratic path,” said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, adding that the US is working with countries in Gulf, where the generals have allies.
Mariam al-Mahdi, the foreign minister in the government that the military dissolved, was defiant on Tuesday, declaring that she and other members of Mr Hamdok’s administration remained the legitimate authority in Sudan.
“We are still in our positions. We reject such coup and such unconstitutional measures,” she told The Associated Press over the phone from her home in the capital of Khartoum. “We will continue our peaceful disobedience and resistance.”
Sudan’s Ministry of Culture and Information, which remains loyal to the deposed government, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that three of the country’s ambassadors — in Belgium, Switzerland and France — abroad have defected.
Nureldin Satti, the Sudanese envoy to the US, said that he was working with those diplomats to “resist the military coup in support of the heroic struggle of the Sudanese people” to achieve the aims of the uprising against Mr al-Bashir. But he did not specify whether he, too, had defected.
Hours after the arrests, Sudanese flooded the streets of Khartoum and other cities in protest. At least four people were killed and over 80 wounded when security forces opened fire, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Committee. The international group Human Rights Watch said forces used live ammunition against the demonstrators.
The country and the world are now braced to see if more violence will unfold in the nation, which saw a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Some protesters blocked streets on Tuesday. Later, footage circulated online showed demonstrators marching in several neighbourhoods of Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman. They chanted, “Retribution,” and “Blood for blood, we won’t accept compensations”.
A bigger test of how the military will respond to the resistance could come on Saturday when protesters plan a mass march to demand a return to civilian rule.
The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, a group of unions which was behind the uprising against Mr al-Bashir, also urged people to go on strike and engage in civil disobedience. Separately, the Sudan Popular Liberation Movement–North, the country’s main rebel group, denounced the coup and called for people to take to the streets.
The military sent mixed signals on Tuesday about what the coming days would hold. Gen Burhan promised to gradually restore internet and communications services that were severely disrupted during the coup. But Sudan’s Civil Aviation Authority said on Tuesday it was suspending all flights to and from the Khartoum International Airport until October 30.
On Monday, Gen Burhan dissolved the Hamdok government and the Sovereign Council, a joint military and civilian body created soon after Mr al-Bashir’s ouster to run the country. He now heads a military council that he said would rule Sudan until elections in July 2023.
The general said he is serious about holding elections on schedule. But much could happen in the coming 19 months, and it is not clear if the military will be willing to release the grip it has had for decades.