NAIROBI — Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled the country for nearly 30 years and is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, has stepped down in response to massive nationwide protests that started four months ago.
Defense Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf addressed the nation Thursday afternoon, announcing that al-Bashir had been arrested "in a safe place." He called for a state of emergency for three months and a transitional period of two years, as well as a national ceasefire, and the immediate release of all political prisoners.
He spoke about the growing inequality that had gripped the country, and noted that "despite all the suffering, despite all the lies, despite all the false promises, the Sudanese were patient, the Sudanese were tolerant, the Sudanese were generous."
Ibn Auf also commended the young people of Sudan, who he said "took to the streets in a very peaceful way."
The demonstrations started in late December by university students who were angry with the government for tripling the cost of bread. When the ATMs ran out of cash shortly after, the Sudanese Professionals Association, a national union group, redirected the protests to call for the end of al-Bashir’s reign. The movement has since spread to nearly every state in Sudan, making it the biggest ever resistance effort against the government since al-Bashir became president.
As the number of protesters multiplied, state-led security forces cracked down on the civilians, firing tear gas during rallies, beating demonstrators in the streets, arresting them indiscriminately, and sometimes killing them. More than 65 people have died since the protests began, a representative of the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate told BuzzFeed News.
The government also issued a social media shutdown, forcing millions of people to use VPNs, which are often unreliable, in order to remain online.
A former military commander, al-Bashir came into power after leading a bloodless coup in 1989. The International Criminal Court charged the 75-year-old in 2009 and 2010 with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in Darfur, where between 200,000 and 300,000 people were killed and at least 2.7 million others were displaced. Despite the international travel ban stemming from his arrest warrant, al-Bashir has made diplomatic trips to South Africa, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
Defense Minister Ibn Auf has said that Bashir is in custody but did not give further details. He promised "free and fair elections" for Sudan at the end of the two-year transitional period.
Sudanese protesters' reactions to Ibn Auf's announcement have been more skeptical than celebratory.
Enas Suliman, a 26-year-old teacher who has been marching in the protests since December, told BuzzFeed News via WhatsApp from Khartoum that it was difficult to feel excited about al-Bashir's arrest when it appeared he would simply be replaced by another military leader.
"I'm disappointed that Awad Ibn Auf was the one to announce the speech himself, for he's known for supporting the regime," said Suliman. She was, however, pleased that the defense minister promised to bring home Sudanese troops who are fighting in other countries.
"I hope things turns for the best, because we've fought too long for this moment," she added.
"They took Omar [al-Bashir], the biggest liar, and put someone just like him," Musab Mohammed told BuzzFeed News from Khartoum. The 19-year-old university student is unconvinced that anything will actually change during the transition period.
"They are the ones who were stealing our money and they will keep doing that until they get out of the government picture," he said.
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