Sudan’s army agrees deal with protesters on three-year transition

Fragile agreement still at risk as initial optimism gives way to violence on streets of Khartoum

Sudanese protesters  wave placards during a demonstration in Khartoum on Tuesday. At least four people were killed on Monday in new clashes between protesters and  security forces. Photograph: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images

Sudanese protesters wave placards during a demonstration in Khartoum on Tuesday. At least four people were killed on Monday in new clashes between protesters and security forces. Photograph: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images

 

Sudan’s military and civilian protest leaders say they have agreed on a three-year transition to democratic rule, raising hopes for a resolution to the political crisis that has enveloped the country since last month’s ousting of president Omar al-Bashir.

At a joint news conference in the early hours of Wednesday, representatives from the ruling Transitional Military Council and an alliance of protest groups said they expected to sign a final deal within 24 hours. But key details were unclear, including the composition of the ruling body that would wield ultimate power until elections were held, and who would lead the country during the years long transitional period.

An initial air of cautious optimism on the streets of the capital, Khartoum, gave way to violence by Wednesday afternoon when members of the security forces opened fire on protesters in the city centre, according to a witness. Video showed protesters running, rebuilding barricades and rushing the wounded to the hospital.

At least eight people were wounded, protest leaders said. It was the second round of bloodshed in Khartoum since Monday, and a mark of the fragile security situation.

The military is not the only armed group at large in the capital. The Rapid Support Forces, a powerful paramilitary group, is also prominent on the streets. Protesters said it was that group that started firing on demonstrators Wednesday.

Thousands of protesters have been camped at the gates of the military headquarters since Mr Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years and became one of Africa’s most enduring dictators, was toppled on April 11th. Those protesters have demanded an immediate transition to civilian rule.

Confusion

The largely peaceful atmosphere was shattered on Monday evening when members of the security forces fired tear gas and live rounds in an apparent attempt to disperse protesters from checkpoints around the protest sites. At least four people were killed and dozens more injured.

Despite initial confusion about the identity of the gunmen – both sides blamed security factions still loyal to Mr Bashir – the United States squarely blamed the military pm Tuesday.

The deaths were “clearly the result of the Transitional Military Council trying to impose its will on the protesters by attempting to remove roadblocks”, the US embassy said in a statement on its Facebook page. “The decision for security forces to escalate the use of force, including the unnecessary use of tear gas, led directly to the unacceptable violence later in the day that the TMC was unable to control,” it said.

The violence suggested perilous divisions in the ranks of Sudan’s security forces, which devolved into a fractious mix of regular and paramilitary forces under al-Bashir, and it appeared to give fresh momentum to the power-sharing talks that culminated in the news conference early Wednesday.

A military spokesman, Lt Gen Yasser al-Atta, said that alliance of protest groups would control two-thirds of the seats on a 300-seat transitional legislative council. Other opposition parties would hold the rest. He said the two sides would spend the first six months of the transition period negotiating peace agreements with rebel groups from Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, who have been fighting the central government for years.

The three-year transition period is a compromise between the military’s demand for a two-year period and protesters who wanted four years. But throughout the talks a key sticking point has been the composition of the sovereign council that would sit over a technocratic, civilian-dominated government.

Protesters

The generals who seized power from Mr Bashir said they should be in charge and have appeared to enjoy the backing of powerful regional players including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Distrustful protesters, who say they have learned the lesson of recent failed revolutions in countries such as Egypt, insist they should hold power during the transition.

On Wednesday both sides indicated they were close to a finalised deal. “Viewpoints are close and, God willing, we will reach an agreement soon,” protest leader Satea al-Hajj, who appeared alongside Lt Gen Atta, told reporters.

Lt Gen Atta echoed that view. “We vow to our people that the agreement will be completed fully within 24 hours in a way that it meets the people’s aspirations,” he said. Still, the uncertainty triggered by Monday’s sudden burst of violence suggested that Sudan’s fragile transition was still at risk from armed elements inside the country’s fractured security forces. – New York Times