General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the second officer to be sworn in as Sudan’s new military ruler in consecutive days, is a ‘veteran soldier’ largely unknown outside the army.
On Friday, Burhan became chief of a military council that deposed Omar al-Bashir, after the president’s immediate successor General Awad Ibn Ouf stepped down following little more than 24 hours in power.
Protesters, determined to see a civilian government after the end of Bashir’s iron-fisted three decades in power, saw Ibn Ouf as a regime insider and a close aide of the toppled leader.
Ibn Ouf’s exit has catapulted Burhan from the shadows to the de facto head of the country.
‘Burhan is a high ranking officer within the armed forces, but basically he’s a veteran soldier,’ said an army officer, who did not want to be named.
‘He’s never been in the limelight like Ibn Ouf or General Kamal Abdelmarouf,’ the officer said, referring to the army’s former chief of staff.
Burhan had a stint as Sudan’s defence attache to Beijing.
On Friday, hours before he was named as Sudan’s new military ruler, he was seen talking to protesters who have camped outside the army headquarters since April 6.
Born in 1960 in the village of Gandatu, north of Khartoum, Burhan studied in a Sudanese army college and later in Egypt and Jordan.
He is married and has three children.
He was commander of ground forces before Bashir made him inspector general of the army in February.
Sudanese media and analysts say Burhan coordinated sending Sudanese troops to Yemen as part of a Saudi-led coalition against the Iran backed Huthi rebels.
Willow Berridge, author of Civil Uprisings in Modern Sudan and lecturer in history at Newcastle University says the Yemen portfolio saw Burhan work closely with Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
It is with the support of this group that ‘he now appears to have come to power,’ said Berridge.
‘The role in this latest move of the Rapid Support Forces — branded by many as a revamped version of the Janjaweed militias who committed mass atrocities in Darfur — will make many cautious,’ Berridge added.
She noted that the various Darfur based rebel groups, which feed into opposition coalitions, would be especially wary.
The conflict in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic black rebels took up arms against Khartoum’s Arab dominated government, accusing it of neglecting the region economically and politically.
The United Nations says about 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict, while millions have been displaced.
Bashir deployed Sudanese troops to Yemen in 2015 as part of a major foreign policy shift that saw Khartoum break its decades-old ties with Shiite Iran and join the Saudi-led coalition.
Sudanese soldiers and officers are fighting in Yemen, and have suffered significant casualties.
While it is unclear how many Sudanese troops have been deployed in Yemen, photographs of killed or wounded soldiers on social media have regularly sparked calls for withdrawal.
‘Burhan doesn’t have any political leanings, he is a professional soldier,’ the anonymous officer said.
But as de facto head of the country, he will not be able to escape making difficult political decisions.
Khartoum erupts with joy as Bashir successor steps down
Agence France-Presse . Khartoum
Crowds of Sudanese waving flags and chanting ‘we toppled two presidents in two days’ celebrated in the capital late Friday after the country’s military council chief stepped down a day after he was sworn in.
‘We have done it, we have done it,’ shouted young men and women as they drove across Khartoum after General Awad Ibn Ouf announced his resignation on state television.
On Thursday, he was sworn in as the chief of a ruling military council that replaced long-time president Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted by the army following months of deadly protests.
Before quitting, Ibn Ouf appointed Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan as his successor, setting off a wave of jubilation across the city.
Car horns sounded on the streets as jubilant crowds streamed out of their homes to cheer the departure of Ibn Ouf, considered a regime insider and close aide of Bashir.
Chants like ‘It fell again, it fell again’ reverberated across the capital’s squares and neighbourhoods, onlookers said.
‘This was our second uprising, first against Bashir and then against Ibn Ouf,’ said Mohamed, a protester, whistling and clapping in an upscale Khartoum neighbourhood.
Dozens of members of a paramilitary group stood at the sidelines, many atop pick-up vehicles loaded with machine-guns, as cheering crowds drove past, witnesses said.
Protest organisers however warned Burhan that if he failed to transfer powers to a civilian transitional government he would face their fury too.
They called on Burhan to reverse decisions announced by Ibn Ouf such as cancelling the suspension of the constitution and also implored him to end the state of emergency and night-time curfew.
Thousands of protesters have massed outside the army headquarters in the capital since April 6.
Earlier on Friday, throngs of Sudanese chanting ‘it will fall again, it will fall again’ flocked there to hunker down for a second night defying the curfew, witnesses said.
Dressed in white traditional clothes, men and women headed to the military complex to join thousands of others camped there.
‘We did it once, we can do it again,’ said a protester, who had been at the site of the demonstration since Tuesday night.
Since the appointment of Ibn Ouf as military council chief, the protesters had turned their anger against him.
‘We don’t want Ibn Ouf, we don’t want any military government,’ said one protester.
‘This entire group is from Bashir’s regime. We want a civilian leader.’
Several soldiers were however seen chatting and mingling with protesters at the complex on Friday, witnesses said.
As the evening approached, buses full of protesters headed to the protest site with plans to defy the curfew again, a witness said.
A mass of people flooded two bridges that connect the capital with suburbs.
At the protest site itself thousands offered Friday prayers earlier in the day.
An imam dressed in a white robe with a Sudanese flag draped over his shoulder led the weekly prayer.
‘This is the first time that I’m coming here in response to calls that today’s prayers will be performed here,’ said Hussein Mohamed, an elderly man who came to the site from Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city across the Nile.
Groups of Coptic Christians served food and drinks to worshippers ahead of their prayers.
Many offered mats to protesters who had been camping at the site since last night.
‘Protesters reject the announcement, protesters reject the announcement,’ chanted women, raising their hands in the air, after praying under a makeshift tent at the complex.
Witnesses said the entire area reverberated with the sound of singing.
Protesters were chanting in circles, with one leading the song and others dancing in circles around him repeating it.
Groups like this are everywhere, said one demonstrator as behind him musicians played traditional Sudanese and African tunes.
Later in the night when Ibn Ouf quit, demonstrators at the complex burst into joy, many kissing photographs of those killed in protests, an onlooker said.
Demonstrators chanted ‘What happened? It fell again,’ he said.
Protest organisers have called on the demonstrators to continue with the sit-in until their demands are met.
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