Sudan braces for strike as protesters pile on pressure

Sudan is bracing for a two-day nationwide strike from Tuesday called by protesters to pile pressure on the military to hand power to a civilian administration as talks remain deadlocked.

Leaders of the umbrella protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change, and army generals who seized power after ousting president Omar al-Bashir last month, have so far failed to iron out differences over who should lead a new governing body — a civilian or soldier.

The new governing body is expected to install a transitional civilian government, which in turn would prepare for the first post-Bashir elections after a three-year interim period ends.

In a bid to step up pressure on the generals, the protest movement has called for a two-day general strike starting on Tuesday.

“The response to the call for a strike has been better than we expected,” said Siddiq Farukh, a leader of the protest movement.

“The two-day strike aims to deliver a message to the whole world that the Sudanese people want a real change and they don’t want the power to be with the military,” he told AFP.

Protest leader Wajdi Saleh told reporters late on Monday that there was “still no breakthrough” in negotiations but the protest movement was ready to negotiate if the generals offer fresh talks.

Saleh did not rule out an “indefinite strike” at a later date if the deadlock continues.

“But we hope that we reach an agreement with the military council and won’t have to go on an indefinite strike,” he said.

Protest leaders said medics, lawyers, prosecutors, employees in the electricity and water sectors, public transport, railways, telecommunication and civil aviation were set to participate in the strike.

They said that the strike in the telecommunication and aviation sectors will not affect operations.

But the protest movement’s plan has been dealt a blow after a key member, the National Umma Party, said it opposed the strike plan as there had been no unanimous decision over it.

“We have to avoid such escalated measures that are not fully agreed,” the party said on Sunday.

‘Let the people decide’

Umma and its chief Sadiq al-Mahdi have for decades been the main opponents of Bashir’s iron-fisted rule.

The party threw its weight behind the protest movement after nationwide demonstrations erupted against him in December.

Mahdi’s elected government was toppled by Bashir in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

In a recent interview with AFP, Mahdi warned protesters not to “provoke” the army rulers as they had been instrumental in Bashir’s removal.

Protester Hazar Mustafa said a civilian government was the only solution to Sudan’s problems.

“We see the military council as part of the former regime. We don’t see it upholding any rights and building a just state,” she said.

The army ousted Bashir after tens of thousands of protesters camped outside military headquarters from April 6 demanding an end to his autocratic rule.

Five days later the generals removed Bashir and since then have resisted calls from protesters and Western powers to hand over power to a civilian administration.

Regional backing

Thousands of protesters remain camped outside the army complex round-the-clock, demanding the generals step down.

Ahead of the strike, the chief of the ruling military council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo have been touring Khartoum’s regional allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The oil-rich Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the UAE along with Egypt are seen backing the generals even as the United States leads Western calls to swiftly establish civilian rule in the country.

Talks between the generals and protest leaders remain deadlocked.

Protest leaders insist a civilian must head the new sovereign council and that civilians should make up the majority of its members, proposals rejected by the ruling generals.

Before suspending talks on May 20, the two sides had agreed on several key issues, including the three-year transition and the creation of a 300-member parliament, with two thirds of lawmakers coming from the protesters’ umbrella group.

© Agence France-Presse

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Aziz El Massassi
Aziz El Massassi

Aziz El Massassi is a journalist with AFP.

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