Crowds to flood Khartoum as standoff with military persists

Sudanese protesters attend a demonstration in front of the Defence Ministry compound in Khartoum, Sudan. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)

Sudanese protesters attend a demonstration in front of the Defence Ministry compound in Khartoum, Sudan. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)

Sudanese demonstrators were preparing to hold a “million-strong” march on Thursday to press for a civilian administration after talks with military rulers ran into trouble.

The two sides have agreed on forming a joint civilian-military council to rule Sudan but are at odds over its composition.

Protest leaders from the Alliance for Freedom and Change say the army is not serious about handing power to civilians, three weeks after it toppled veteran president Omar al-Bashir.

The army has been pushing for a 10-member council including seven military representatives and three civilians.

The alliance is demanding a council made up of eight civilians and seven generals.

The disagreement prompted the alliance to announce a “million-strong march to assert our main demand, which is for civilian rule”.

The call has exacerbated tensions between the two sides.

“We expect the march to draw huge crowds today,” said Ahmed al-Rabia, a leader from the protest movement.

The military council has warned it will not allow “chaos” and urged protesters to dismantle makeshift barricades they have set up around the main protest site outside army headquarters.

It also demanded protesters open roads and bridges blocked by demonstrators who have camped outside the headquarters for weeks, even after Bashir’s ouster.

The march itself was not expected to get under way until mid-afternoon, when the worst of the midday heat had passed.

But the protesters camped in the square outside army headquarters kept up a festive atmosphere with loudspeakers blaring out revolutionary songs and vendors selling fruit and peanuts, an AFP correspondent reported.

‘Asking for trouble’

As both sides in the standoff remained intransigent, they held separate news conferences on Tuesday to explain their divergent views.

“The military council is not serious about handing over power to civilians,” said Mohamed Naji al-Assam, a leader of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) spearheading the protests.

“The military council insists that the [joint] council should be military-led with civilian representation,” Assam said, adding the army had been seeking to “expand its powers daily”.

In an interview on Wednesday, Sudan’s main opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi warned protest leaders against provoking the military.

“If we provoke the… armed forces which contributed to the change, we would be asking for trouble,” he said.

The military council’s deputy head Mohammad Hamdan Dagolo has said it is “committed to negotiations but (will allow) no chaos”.

Hamdan, widely knowns as Himeidti, and some of his colleagues spoke of incidents since the protests first broke out in December including looting and burning of markets.

He said across the country six security personnel had been killed during protests on Monday.

The spokesman of the military council, Lieutenant General Shamseddin al-Kabbashi, said the “armed forces must remain in the sovereign council” because of tensions facing the country.

In a breakthrough on Saturday, the two sides agreed to form a joint civilian-military body to pave the way for detailed negotiations on a roadmap for the formation of a civilian government.

But Rabia said on Thursday that no date had been set for further talks with the military council to iron out their remaining differences.

The protesters have won support from Western governments for their demands.

But Gulf Arab states have provided the military council with a three-billion dollar credit lifeline to support an “orderly” transition.

The African Union on Tuesday gave Sudan’s military rulers another 60 days to hand over power to a civilian authority or face suspension, after an earlier deadline was missed.

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