Sudan’s state TV announced the country’s armed forces will deliver an “important statement” on Thursday and are asking the nation to “wait for it” after nearly four months of anti-government protests demanding the ouster of longtime President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir.
The announcement raised expectations that the statement could be a sign Bashir is relinquishing power or is being removed by the military after 30 years of rule.
Pan-Arab TV networks carried unconfirmed reports that Bashir had stepped down and that top ruling party officials were being arrested. The whereabouts of the autocratic leader, who is a pariah in many countries in the world and is also wanted by the international war crimes tribunal for atrocities in Darfur, were not immediately known.
Organizers of the protests urged masses to converge and join a sit-in that has been underway in the capital, Khartoum, since the weekend.
They issued a statement vowing to remain in the streets until “the regime steps down completely and power is handed to a civilian transitional government.”
Thousands of protesters, including women carrying their children, were seen marching toward the military headquarters, clapping and ululating. Many were flashing “V’’ for victory. There were also unconfirmed reports that the airport in the Sudanese capital had been closed.
Ahead of the statement, Sudanese radio played military marches as the TV said there will be an “important statement from the armed forces after a while, wait for it.”
It came after clashes between Sudanese security forces and protesters holding a large anti-government sit-in outside the military’s headquarters Khartoum, after several attempts to break the sit-in, leaving 22 dead since Saturday.
The previous day, Sudanese security forces tried again to break up the sit-in, which began over the weekend, killing at least 14 people Tuesday, activists behind the demonstration said. The government said 11 died. The fatalities so far have included five soldiers who protest organizers said were defending the sit-in.
The months of protests have plunged Sudan into its worst crisis in years. The demonstrations initially erupted in December with rallies against a spiraling economy, but quickly escalated into calls for Bashir to step down.
The protests against Bashir gained momentum last week after Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power for 20 years, resigned in response to weeks of similar protests.
Saturday’s marches in Khartoum marked the 34th anniversary of the overthrow of former President Nimeiri in a bloodless coup. It was one of the largest turnouts in the current wave of unrest.
The military removed Nimeiri after a popular uprising in 1985. It quickly handed over power to an elected government. The dysfunctional administration lasted only a few years until Bashir — a career army officer — allied with Islamist hard-liners and toppled it in a coup in 1989.
Bashir has banned unauthorized public gatherings and granted sweeping powers to the police since imposing a state of emergency last month, and security forces have used tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and batons against demonstrators.
Security forces have responded to the protest movement with a fierce crackdown, killing dozens of people.