Standoff in Sudan as protesters demand civilian government

Following ousting of Omar al-Bashir, military under pressure to hand power to people

Young Sudanese carry a national flag as they rally in the capital Khartoum on Sunday. The new regime has said it would hand over power to civilians after a transition period. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

Young Sudanese carry a national flag as they rally in the capital Khartoum on Sunday. The new regime has said it would hand over power to civilians after a transition period. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

 

Talks between Sudan’s new military rulers and protest organisers demanding a civilian government have continued, as thousands of demonstrators remained camped outside the army headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, for an eighth day. The new regime has said it would hand over power to civilians after a transition period, in what appeared to be an attempt to quell months of street protests.

The armed forces took power on Thursday after forcing president Omar al-Bashir to step down after 30 years of repressive rule. A 10-member delegation representing the protesters delivered their demands during talks late on Saturday, according to a statement by umbrella group the Alliance for Freedom and Change.

The group insists civilian representatives should be accepted onto the military council, and that a fully civilian government should be formed to run day-to-day affairs.

“We will continue . . . our sit-in until all our demands are met,” said one of the alliance’s leaders, Omar al-Degier.

The Sudanese foreign ministry urged the international community on Sunday to back the country’s new military rulers to help “democratic transition”.

“The ministry of foreign affairs is looking forward to the international community to understand the situation and to support the transitional military council . . . in order to achieve the Sudanese goal of democratic transition,” it said.

On Saturday, the new chief of the military council, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, vowed to dismantle Bashir’s regime and lifted a night-time curfew with immediate effect.

Sacrifices

In a broadcast to the nation, Burhan praised the “peaceful revolution” and the sacrifices made by Sudanese people. The 60-year-old soldier ordered the release of hundreds of political detainees and promised inclusive dialogue with all involved with the aim of forming a civilian government acceptable to everyone.

Burhan took the oath of office on Friday after his predecessor, Gen Awad Ibn Auf – a defence minister and long-time aide of the deposed president – stepped down little more than 24 hours after ousting Bashir.

Protests erupted on December 19th, 2018, in Sudan’s eastern city of Atbara after a government decision to triple the price of bread. This quickly evolved into nationwide demonstrations against Bashir’s 30-year rule. Tens of thousands of people have massed outside the army headquarters since April 6th, initially to urge the armed forces to back their demand that Bashir be removed.

Burhan comes with less baggage from Bashir’s deeply unpopular rule than Ibn Auf.

The fall of Bashir has intensified a competition for influence in Sudan by Middle East powers

But while celebrating the fall of Bashir and then Ibn Auf, protesters remain cautious. “We surely want our demands to be met, but both sides will have to be flexible to reach a deal,” said a protester who spent the night at the army complex.

Degier said the protesters’ demands included restructuring the country’s feared national intelligence and security service (NISS), whose chief, Salih Ghosh, resigned on Saturday.

Delegation

The delegation for the talks includes several members who have only recently been released after months of detention.

The newly formed 10-member transitional council contains individuals who played key roles in Bashir’s regime.

On Saturday evening, the new military ruler named the NISS deputy head, Jalaluddin Sheikh, to the council. He also nominated Mohammad Hamdan Daglo – known as Himeidti – a field commander for the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) counter-insurgency unit, which rights groups have accused of abuses in war-torn Darfur.

The fall of Bashir has intensified a competition for influence in Sudan, one of Africa’s biggest countries, by Middle East powers.

Key regional powerbrokers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates voiced backing for the transitional council. Burhan’s nomination “reflects the ambitions of the brotherly people of Sudan for security, stability and development”, said the UAE state news agency WAM.