Sudan's fragile transition has taken a major blow as Abdalla Hamdok resigned as prime minister, after failing to reach an accommodation with military coup leaders to form a government ahead of elections.
The Sunday resignation of Mr Hamdok, a widely respected economist and former United Nations official , raises the prospect of major bloodshed if security forces respond violently to protesters demanding civilian rule.
After weeks of fruitless negotiations with the military – during which local and international efforts urged the prime minister to remain in office – Mr Hamdok said he was unable to continue.
"I tried as much as I could to avoid our country from sliding into disaster," Mr Hamdok said in a televised address.
"I decided to give back the responsibility and announce my resignation as prime minister, and give a chance to another man or woman of this noble country."
Mr Hamdok gained respect at home as the senior civilian leader in a military-civilian power sharing arrangement following the overthrow of former dictator Omar Al Bashir in 2019.
He played a crucial role in Sudan's readmission to the global community after three decades of isolation under Bashir. Sudan was removed from the US state sponsor of terror blacklist in December 2020 and last June the International Monetary Fund approved debt relief of more than than $56 billion in addition to $2.5 billion funding.
Last October however army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan dissolved the government in a coup, a month before he was due to hand the chair of the ruling sovereignty council to a civilian leader.
Analysts say military leaders were concerned that civilian rule would include accountability for past abuses and oversight over military financial interests, which represent a large share of the Sudanese economy.
But widespread anti-coup protests at home and international pressure abroad forced Gen Burhan to ask Mr Hamdok in November to return to form a technocratic government ahead of elections scheduled for 2023.
Some Sudanese criticised Mr Hamdok for returning to negotiations with the military, with protesters demanding a complete transition to civilian rule.
Mr Hamdok's resignation six weeks after his reinstatement came hours after the latest large scale protests against the military. A doctor's group aligned with the protest movements said that 58 civilians have been killed in dispersals of protests by security forces since the coup on October 25 .
Further demonstrations planned for Tuesday face the prospect of violent repression by the military and the powerful paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, which have been accused of killing and abusing protesters.
The United States demanded Sudanese leaders stop violence against protesters and ensure a transition to civilian rule on Monday.
“After PM Hamdok’s resignation, Sudanese leaders should set aside differences, find consensus and ensure continued civilian rule,” the US State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs tweeted.
The Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change (FFC), an umbrella group of Sudanese political parties and pro-democracy groups, accused Mr Hamdok of allowing the military to dominate the government and has continued organising anti-coup protests .
Cameron Hudson, a former US State Department official and Sudan expert at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center said the international community needed to step in.
“It's time for the deployment of an international mediator who can do the job Hamdok was incapable of – finding political compromise between the military, the street and the FFC, to rewrite a roadmap for going forward.”
Jibril Ibrahim, a former rebel leader who served as finance minister under Mr Hamdok but expressed support for the military before the coup, called his resignation “regrettable”.
“Our nation needs political compromise today more than ever to navigate safely through these turbulent times. There is a room to accommodate everyone.”
The US State Department said any new appointments should follow the power sharing deal struck in 2019.
“Sudan’s next PM and cabinet should be appointed in line with the constitutional declaration to meet the people’s goals of freedom, peace, and justice,” it said. “Violence against protesters must cease.”
Mr Hamdok did not name a successor.
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