As if the war in Ethiopia were not enough, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s Africa visit is also shadowed by a military coup in Sudan, which has prompted weeks of protests drawing hundreds of thousands of people.
On Wednesday, Sudanese security forces fired into crowds of demonstrators in Khartoum, the capital, killing 15 people and wounding many others, according to a statement by the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, an independent group of medics. That is the highest toll since the army took power on Oct. 25.
Many had been shot “in the head, neck or torso,” the main doctor’s association said in a statement. The 15 deaths brought the number of those reported killed in protests so far to at least 39.
The coup in Sudan is an unexpected crisis that blew up only a few weeks ago — in the face of one of Mr. Blinken’s most seasoned envoys.
For days in October, that envoy, Jeffrey Feltman, had navigated between Sudan’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, striving to avert the collapse of a democratic transition that had been underway for two years.
At a final meeting late on Oct. 24, General al-Burhan argued that Sudan’s cabinet should be dismissed and replaced, but he gave no indication that he was preparing to seize power. With that reassurance, Mr. Feltman caught a flight to Qatar where, on landing, his phone lit up: A coup was underway in Sudan.
Protests erupted, Mr. Hamdok was placed under house arrest and other civilian officials were also detained. General al-Burhan has taken steps that suggest he wants to retain power, despite his assurances otherwise. For Mr. Feltman, the military coup was a nasty surprise that has proved difficult to navigate.
“They lied to him,” said Nureldin Satti, Sudan’s ambassador to the United States, referring to his country’s military leadership. “This is very serious because when you lie to the U.S., you have to pay the consequences.”
As Mr. Blinken flew to Africa on Tuesday, there were some possible signs of progress in Sudan. Another of his top aides, Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee, was in Khartoum, and met with both General al-Burhan and the detained prime minister. Ms. Phee said on Twitter that she was “grateful for the opportunity to meet with @SudanPMHamdok today to discuss ways forward to restore Sudan’s democratic transition.”
According to the official Sudan News Agency’s account of Ms. Phee’s meeting with General al-Burhan, he said that, regarding political detainees, “steps for their release have already begun, and that any detainee who is not proven guilty of a criminal offense will be released.”