Sudan talks resume after shootings cloud breakthrough

Protest leaders resumed talks with Sudan’s military rulers on Tuesday seeking to build on a political breakthrough overshadowed by deadly shootings at a long-running protest sit-in outside army headquarters.

The protest movement is demanding a civilian-led transition after 30 years of ironfisted rule by president Omar al-Bashir but the generals who toppled him have been pushing for a continuing leadership role.

An army major and five protesters were killed by unidentified gunmen at the Khartoum sit-in late on Monday just hours after the two sides announced they had reached agreement on the structure and powers of the bodies that will oversee the transition.

The Alliance for Freedom and Change — the protest movement umbrella group that has been negotiating with the military council — said the shootings were an attempt to “disturb the breakthrough” and blamed militias still loyal to Bashir’s regime.

The military council said that it had “noticed some armed infiltrators among the protesters” at the sit-in, but did not specify who they were.

READ MORE: Sudan protesters threaten civil disobedience after army delays

Protest leaders resumed their talks with military council representatives in early afternoon, one of the protest leaders told AFP.

They were expected to discuss the all-important composition of the transitional bodies.

The protest movement has been demanding that they be led by civilians and have civilian majorities with military representation.

The military is ready to accept a mainly civilian cabinet but has been demanding a military majority in a proposed sovereign council that will have the final say in matters of state.

Also on agenda is the duration of the transition, with the military calling for a two-year timeframe while the protesters want four years to allow time for the array of preparatory reforms they say are necessary.

The renewed talks between the two sides that opened on Monday come after a break in negotiations that saw protest leaders threaten “escalatory measures” to secure their central demand of civilian rule.

The issue has kept protesters camped outside army headquarters around the clock ever since Bashir’s overthrow.

The sit-in has become the focal point for the protest movement in place of the near daily protests that had been held around the country while the veteran president remained in power.

But on Tuesday, following the previous night’s violence at the Khartoum sit-in, protesters vented their anger on the streets of capital’s twin city Omdurman.

Protesters gathered in the Abbassiya and Al-Arbaa districts, just across the Nile from the capital, with many chanting slogans against the military council, witnesses told AFP.

“Protect your homeland or prepare to die!” the protesters chanted.

In Arbaa, some blocked roads with burning tyres, a witness said, adding that troops deployed to the area.

In Khartoum, the square outside the army complex was calm after the previous night’s violence, AFP correspondents reported.

Graffiti artists had sprayed portraits of the killed on the makeshift barriers thrown up around the sit-in.

“What happened yesterday was the dirty work of the ousted regime,” said protester Hisham al-Sayed.

“They are playing the game of dividing the people in order to control the situation. We have to ensure that the barricades are not removed.”

Protester Aboud Hassan, 45, blamed paramilitaries from the Rapid Support Forces for the shootings.

“I accuse the RSF of yesterday’s assault because they are illegal forces,” he said.

“We are not trusting those guys anymore. They are supposed to guard the protesters.”

The RSF is made up of former militiamen but comes under the ambit of the army.

Its irregulars are routinely seen deployed at key junctions in pickups mounted with machine guns and their commander Mohamed Hamadan Dagolo, widely known as Hmeidti, is now deputy chairman of the military council.

Doctors, who along with other professionals have played a major part in organising the protests, have set up field clinics at the sit-in where they treated the wounded from Monday’s shootings.

“So far all cases are stable, and those unstable have been transferred to hospital,” a duty doctor told AFP.

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Jay Deshmukh
Jay Deshmukh
Sudan Bureau Chief for Agence France Presse (AFP) based in Khartoum.
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