Sudan protesters says military cannot usher in new era

Military council’s pledge of new civilian government in two years rejected by protest group

Crowds celebrate on the streets of Sudanese capital Khartoum as reports suggest president Omar al-Bashir has stood down. Video: WDMUSA24

 

Sudan’s ruling military council on Friday promised a new civilian government, a day after the armed forces overthrew President Omar al-Bashir, but mistrustful protest leaders immediately rejected the gesture.

The council, which is now running Sudan under defence minister Awad Ibn Auf, said it expected a pre-election transition to last two years at most or much less if chaos can be avoided.

The head of the military council’s political committee, Omar Zain al-Abideen, also said the council would hold a dialogue with political entities.

However, later on Friday, the council said the meeting would be delayed until a later unspecified date, state news agency SUNA reported.

The council also announced that it would not extradite Mr Bashir to face accusations of genocide at the international war crimes court. Instead he might go on trial in Sudan.

Friday’s announcement of a future civilian government by the head of the military council’s political committee, General Omar Zain al-Abideen, appeared aimed at reassuring wary demonstrators who went back into the streets to warn against imposing army rule after Mr Bashir’s ousting.

But the main protest group dismissed the pledge, saying the military council was “not capable of creating change”. In a statement, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) restated its demand for power to be handed immediately to “a transitional civilian government”.

Mr Bashir (75) himself seized power in a 1989 military coup. He had faced 16 weeks of demonstrations sparked by rising food costs, high unemployment and increasing repression during his three decades of autocratic rule.

Friday prayers

Worshippers packed the streets around the defence ministry for Friday prayers, heeding a call by the SPA to challenge the military council.

The numbers swelled in the afternoon and a Reuters witness estimated hundreds of thousands of protesters thronged areas around the ministry, which was guarded by soldiers.

“We do not reject a military council in principle, but we reject these people because they are from Bashir’s regime,” said Abdelhamid Ahmed, a 24-year-old doctor.

Sudan’s deputy UN ambassador Yasir Abdalla Abdelsalam Ahmed told the UN Security Council on Friday that any democratic process in the country required time and called on the international community to support a peaceful transition.

“No party will be excluded from the political process, including armed groups,” he told the council during a meeting on Abyei, a contested border region claimed by Sudan and South Sudan. The 15-member council convened later on Friday behind closed doors to be briefed on the latest developments in Sudan.

“Moreover, the suspension of the constitution could be lifted at any point and the transitional period could be shortened depending on developments on the ground and agreements reached between stakeholders,” the Sudanese envoy said.

Mr Zain al-Abideen said the military council would not interfere with a civilian government. However, he said the defence and interior ministries would be under its control.

The military council is headed by Mr Ibn Auf, who was Mr Bashir’s vice-president and defence minister and is among a handful of Sudanese commanders sanctioned by Washington for his alleged role during the atrocities committed in the Darfur conflict.

International support

World powers, including the United States and Britain, said they supported a peaceful and democratic transition sooner than two years. China said it would continue to seek co-operation with Sudan regardless of the political situation.

Mr Ibn Auf said on Thursday that Mr Bashir was being detained in a “safe place”. Sudanese sources told Reuters that Mr Bashir was at the presidential residence under heavy guard.

Mr Ibn Auf also announced a state of emergency, a nationwide ceasefire and the suspension of the constitution. He further said there would be a curfew from 10pm to 4 am.

But the council affirmed on Friday it would not extradite Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Mr Bashir is facing an arrest warrant over accusations of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to the death of an estimated 300,000 people. He denies the allegations. – Reuters