By Joseph Goldstein and Declan Walsh
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the authoritarian leader of Sudan wanted on genocide charges in connection with atrocities in Darfur, has been ousted by his nation’s military after nearly four months of mass protests shattered his grip on the country.
The nation’s defense minister, Lt. Gen. Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, announced on Thursday that Mr. al-Bashir had been taken into custody, the government had been dissolved and the Constitution had been suspended. He said there would be a two-year transition period, with the military in charge, and announced a 10 p.m. curfew.
Mr. al-Bashir, 75, who ruled Sudan longer than any other leader since the country gained independence in 1956, has long been regarded as a pariah in the West and as a ruthless strongman by many in his country.
He presided over massacres in southern Sudan, where his forces pushed barrel bombs from planes onto remote villages, and in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, where hundreds of thousands died. In the 1990s, he hosted Osama bin Laden, pushing his country toward international isolation and American sanctions.
Before the announcement of his removal, protesters demanding Mr. al-Bashir’s ouster had gathered outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum, the capital. They addressed a chant to the president: “You’ve been dancing for 30 years. Today it’s our turn to dance.”
“He has been such a burden for us,” said one 25-year-old protester who has lived his entire life under Mr. al-Bashir’s rule. “We can’t wait to build the new Sudan with freedom, justice and peace.”
[Read more about Mr. al-Bashir’s ruthless 30-year hold on power.]
But protesters’ jubilation was tempered by a wary uncertainty about what would happen after Mr. al-Bashir was toppled, given that the military said it was taking control.
“What has been just stated is for us a coup, and it is not acceptable,” said Sara Abdelgalil, a spokeswoman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has been organizing the protests. “They are recycling the faces, and this will return us to where we have been.”
“We insist on a civil government,” Ms. Abdelgalil added, “and we don’t support any coup.”
She said the demonstrations would continue “until there is a complete step down of the whole regime.”
On Thursday, there was no sign of that kind of break with the past.
The United States has previously accused General Auf, a former diplomat and head of Sudan’s military intelligence, of playing a significant role in violence and atrocities committed in Darfur.
“It’s basically Bashir’s henchmen taking over,” said Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert at Tufts University. “It stops a civil war among Sudan’s rivalrous military oligarchs, but it won’t satisfy the demands for democracy.”
General Auf said that Mr. al-Bashir was in “a safe place” after his arrest. Several leading Islamists with the ruling National Congress Party, which was viewed as a potential political rival to the military, have also been taken into custody.
Mr. al-Bashir came to power in 1989 as a little-known general during an Islamist and military-backed coup. In the following years, he purged Islamists and insiders from his party, and demonstrated a knack for political survival.
He tightened his control by building up an array of competing security forces and militias, as well as the regular army. Sudan analysts have warned that those forces are likely to begin tussling for dominance once the longtime ruler is out of the picture.
For much of the last 30 years, Mr. al-Bashir waged war in his own country, leading to international charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in connection with years of conflict in the western region of Darfur.
Mr. al-Bashir is under indictment before the International Criminal Court, accused of playing “an essential role” in atrocities in Darfur by overseeing forces that killed, raped and terrorized hundreds of thousands of civilians. Before his ouster, he was the only active leader of a nation to be wanted by the court.
For years, Mr. al-Bashir also presided over a devastating war with rebels in southern Sudan. The country ultimately divided in 2011, when South Sudan gained independence. But Mr. al-Bashir kept fighting brutal conflicts with rebels in other parts of Sudan.
In addition, he sent thousands of Sudanese soldiers to fight outside the country, including in the civil war in Yemen, and it is not clear whether a new government will call them home.
But in the end, the wars and atrocities did not topple Mr. al-Bashir. Instead, he was brought down by mass protests set off by the price of bread.
Protests began in December over rising food costs but quickly expanded to a broad challenge to Mr. al-Bashir’s hold on power. In recent days, rival factions within the security services have battled each other, raising fears of a complete breakdown in order as armed military groups fight for control.
A striking photo of one protester standing on a car and wearing a white thoub — a long robe — and gold earrings as she urged on a crowd this week was widely shared online and called an iconic image of the demonstrations.
Protests over Mr. al-Bashir’s rule had surfaced — and been crushed — before, and for months his security forces tried to contain the latest uprising through arrests, interrogations and gunfire.
But the demonstrations gained strength in early April when huge crowds began to gather outside army headquarters. Instead of dispersing the crowd, Sudanese soldiers permitted the protesters to stay and soon began to block — and in a few cases fire upon — other security and intelligence forces seeking to crack down..
To the protesters, that rift between government forces suggested that Mr. al-Bashir’s support within the army was slipping — though the military, which has been accused of many rights abuses, is not seen as a unifying force.
The division also highlighted how a number of armed groups and factions have grown in power under Mr. al-Bashir’s long rule — and their potential to be a destabilizing force in Sudan.
“The monopoly of gun power has been fragmented for many years in this government,” said Magdi el-Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, a research group based in Kenya.