Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been removed from power and detained by the army, Defence Minister Awad Ibnouf announced on state television on Thursday.
“I announce as minister of defence the toppling of the regime and detaining its chief in a secure place,” Ibnouf said.
Bashir, who ruled with an iron fist since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, has been removed after deadly force failed to end four months of nationwide protests for his ouster.
A son of Sadiq al-Mahdi, the head of the country’s main opposition Umma Party, told al-Hadath TV that Bashir was being held with “a number of leaders of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group”.
It was not known what would now happen to Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague and is facing an arrest warrant over allegations of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to death of an estimated 300,000 people.
The downfall of Bashir follows the toppling this month of Algerian strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika, also following mass protests after three decades in power.
Government sources and the minister of production and economic resources in North Darfur, Adel Mahjoub Hussein, told Dubai-based al-Hadath TV that Bashir’s presidency was over and consultations were being held on creating a ruling military council.
Early on Thursday morning, state television said the military would make an announcement soon.
Military rule again?
Names that have been circulating include Vice President and Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, an ex-military intelligence chief, also an Islamist, and former army chief of staff Emad al-Din Adawi.
Adawi is said to be favoured by regional neighbours at odds with Bashir over his Islamist leanings.
Thousands of people flocked to an anti-government protest outside the ministry on Thursday, while huge crowds took to the streets in central Khartoum, dancing and shouting anti-Bashir slogans. Protesters chanted: “It has fallen, we won.”
Demonstrators called for a civilian government and said they would not accept an administration led by military and security figures, or by Bashir’s aides.
Omar Saleh Sennar, a senior member of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, one of the main protest groups, said it was waiting for the army statement and expected to negotiate with the military over a transfer of power from Bashir.
“We will only accept a transitional civilian government,” Sennar told Reuters.
Kamal Omar, 38, another demonstrator, said: “We will continue our sit-in until we prevail.”
Some demonstrators, who have rallied against Bashir since December 19, said they feared the delay would allow him to go into exile.
Troops deployed around the defence ministry and on major roads and bridges in the capital.
Soldiers stormed the headquarters of Bashir’s Islamic Movement, the main component of the ruling National Congress Party.
Protesters also attacked the offices of Sudan’s intelligence and security service in the eastern cities of Port Sudan and Kassala on Thursday, witnesses said.
Bashir, a former paratrooper who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1989, has been a divisive figure who has managed his way through one internal crisis after another while withstanding attempts by the West to weaken him.
Sudan has suffered prolonged periods of isolation since 1993, when the United States added Bashir’s government to its list of terrorism sponsors for harbouring Islamist militants. Washington followed up with sanctions four years later.
The latest crisis has escalated since the weekend, when thousands of demonstrators began camping out outside the defense ministry compound, where Bashir’s residence is located.
Clashes erupted on Tuesday between soldiers trying to protect the protesters and intelligence and security personnel trying to disperse them.
At least 11 people died, including six members of the armed forces, the information minister said, citing a police report.
Since December, Sudan has been rocked by persistent protests sparked by the government’s attempt to raise the price of bread, and an economic crisis that has led to fuel and cash shortages.