Sudan’s Military Ousts Numeiri : Coup Climaxes Protests; African Ally Was on Way Back From U.S.

Times Staff Writer

The armed forces seized power in Sudan on Saturday, announcing the ouster of President Jafaar Numeiri and his government, the suspension of the constitution and the declaration of a state of emergency throughout that African nation.

A communique signed by Gen. Abdul-Rahman Suwar Dahab, the defense minister and armed forces commander in chief, also announced the dissolution of the Central People’s Assembly (Parliament) and of Numeiri’s governing political party, the Sudanese Socialist Union.

The communique was made public here by Ibrahim Taha Ayoub, Sudan’s ambassador to Kenya, who is in touch with Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, by radio.

The coup climaxed days of Sudanese public protests. It caught Numeiri, 57, who himself became the leader of Sudan in a military coup 16 years ago, en route home from a visit to the United States, where he had gone to have an annual physical examination and to plead for more economic aid.


Important U.S. Ally

The Reagan Administration regards Sudan as an important supporter of its policies in the Middle East, and officials said in Washington that they do not expect Numeiri’s overthrow to disrupt U.S. relations with Khartoum.

A close ally of Egypt and a supporter of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Sudan has been regarded as a member of the “moderate” bloc in the Arab League. Numeiri met with President Reagan and other top U.S. officials in Washington last week and received assurances of continued U.S. help for Sudan’s economy.

Austerity measures imposed in Sudan to cope with economic woes, including higher food prices, led to a rising tide of public protest that began even before Numeiri left home for the United States.


Khartoum Was Paralyzed

Khartoum, the scene of daily demonstrations against the government for most of the last 10 days, was virtually paralyzed by a general strike that cut off communications and closed the international airport there.

Numeiri’s home-bound plane was landing in Cairo at about the time that word of the military action against him was announced by Gen. Dahab in a broadcast by official Radio Omdurman, located in Omdurman, a city across the Nile River from the Sudanese capital.

Dahab said that the armed forces took the action to “comply with the wishes of the people.”


Ayoub, the Sudanese ambassador here in Nairobi, said that when the coup was announced, the Sudanese public took to the streets in Khartoum “in celebration and jubilation.” The ambassador seemed jubilant himself.

“It is a very good thing,” he said. “It is a very good thing for the Sudanese people and for the country.” The Sudanese announcement said the army would take power for “an interim period” until “powers are transferred to the people.”

(Associated Press correspondent Dalia Baligh reported from Khartoum that the announcement of the coup brought tens of thousands of rejoicing Sudanese into the streets, singing and tearing down Numeiri’s portraits.

(The armed forces promised to relinquish power to civilians within six months, Baligh reported.


(In a communique broadcast late Saturday night over Radio Omdurman, Dahab pledged political, economic and social reforms and said he would guarantee freedom for the press, political organizations and religions, AP reported.

(Dahab also promised to open “direct dialogue” with rebels in the south and achieve national unity “within the framework of equality in rights and duties.”

(The radio station also broadcast a message attributed to the unions that began walkouts which led to the paralyzing general strike calling on all their members “to end the strike immediately and return to work.”)

Because the initial announcement of the coup on Radio Omdurman did not mention Numeiri, there was speculation at first that the military might have seized power to try to stabilize the chaotic Sudanese situation until Numeiri’s return. It was only three weeks ago that Numeiri had appointed Gen. Dahab to be minister of defense, a Cabinet post that Numeiri had previously retained for himself.


Top Officials Replaced

But the text of the military communique received by Ambassador Ayoub here and later distributed by the official Sudanese news agency SUNA made it clear that Numeiri and all of the top people in his government, as well as provincial officials, had been relieved of their posts.

The communique also announced that military commanders would replace regional officials in their administrative posts.

Sudan’s new military government was quickly recognized by the Libyan government of Moammar Kadafi, a foe of Numeiri, the Libyan news agency Jana reported. And the official radio in Syria welcomed Numeiri’s ouster, wire services reported.


In his 15 years as president of Sudan, geographically the largest nation in Africa, Numeiri has survived at least three serious coup attempts and innumerable plots that were uncovered before they reached the shooting stage.

Took Power in 1969

After coming to power in 1969, he followed a course of hard-line leftist radicalism, with Communists in his government taking the leading roles. But, after a Communist-led coup attempt against him in 1971, Numeiri backed away from his formerly close relations with the Soviet Union. From the late 1970s to the present, U.S. influence in Sudan has grown steadily, with Numeiri coming to be regarded as a key U.S. ally in the region. Since Numeiri became president, Sudan has become the second largest recipient of U.S. aid in Africa, after Egypt.

But internal dissatisfaction with Numeiri had been building in recent years. In September, 1983, he imposed Islamic law, or Sharia, in Sudan, and the decision brought an avalanche of problems.


The move helped to fuel a growing rebellion in the non-Muslim areas of southern Sudan, where breakaway leaders said they were determined to keep fighting the regime until Numeiri was ousted.

In addition, Numeiri’s poorly prepared transition to Islamic banking, business and taxation schemes brought Sudanese commerce to a virtual standstill and cut government revenues to a trickle.

Economic Problems Grew

Sudan’s severe economic problems grew markedly worse, leaving the country unable to make even token payments on its $9-billion foreign debt.


In February, the United States disclosed that it was holding up $181 million in aid to Sudan until Khartoum made basic economic reforms. Some of those, including International Monetary Fund suggestions to raise the prices of food and fuel, set off protests in the streets, followed by last week’s demonstrations that began just after Numeiri left on his trip to Washington, apparently confident that the reforms would bring an infusion of American aid that would stave off crisis.

The United States did announce that $69 million of the aid had been released, but by then the demonstrations had gathered momentum, spreading from students to professional groups such as doctors and lawyers and to a wide range of middle-class Sudanese in the capital. A general strike virtually shut down Khartoum, cutting off power as well as interrupting international communications.

Some of the first disturbances were marked by violence as rioters set fire to army trucks and smashed windows in downtown Khartoum. It was unofficially reported that six people were killed when police or army personnel opened fire on the demonstrators.

Career Army Officer


According to Ambassador Ayoub in Nairobi, Sudan’s new leader, Gen. Dahab, has been a career army officer, who, the ambassador said, “believes the army should stay out of politics.”

The ambassador said that the general was trained at the military academy in Khartoum and attended a general staff college in Jordan. He said the general is in his early 50s and is a “devout Muslim.”

The ambassador added that he believes Dahab will relinquish power “as soon as possible” to a civilian government, “some form of parliamentary democracy.”

Whatever the government in Sudan, its initial problem will be Sudan’s economy. In addition to endemic problems of mismanagement and corruption, Sudan has been hit by a severe drought and an influx of about a million refugees from neighboring countries, principally Ethiopia. The United States has committed about $70 million in food aid for Sudan, and estimates are that 6.5 million of Sudan’s 22 million people will depend on food aid to survive the coming year.


May Cool Rebellion

Among the positive changes that could result under a new regime in Sudan is a rapprochement with the rebels in the south, whose activities have cost Sudan dearly throughout the last two years. The rebels halted development of oil reserves in the south by Chevron Corp., which had spent about $900 million in exploration and pre-production efforts. Chevron shut down its operations--which it had said would lead to a production of 25,000 barrels daily--after its installations were repeatedly hit by rebel bands.

The rebels also forced closure of construction of the huge Jonglei Canal, designed to cut a channel through the Sudd, a vast swamp formed by the Nile River. The digging of the canal, co-sponsored by Egypt, would have improved the flow of the river and brought a much-needed highway to the south. The French workers halted the project after rebels kidnaped several members of their team.