Sudan protesters, army rulers in breakthrough talks over civil rule

Sudan protesters, army rulers in breakthrough talks over civil rule

KHARTOUM – Agence France-Presse
Sudan protesters, army rulers in breakthrough talks over civil rule

Sudanese protesters April 28 welcomed a breakthrough in talks with army rulers who agreed to form a joint civilian-military council, paving the way for a civilian administration as demanded by demonstrators.

The agreement would replace the existing 10-member military council that took power after the army ousted veteran leader Omar al-Bashir on April 11 amid massive protests.

"What happened yesterday is a step to have a civilian authority," said Mohamed Amin, one of thousands of demonstrators who have been camped for weeks outside headquarters.

"We are happy by the progress in the talks, but we are still waiting for the composing of the council and the civilian government."

The joint civilian-military council will be the overall ruling body, while a new transitional civilian government is expected to be formed to run the day to day affairs of the country, a key demand of protesters.

That civilian government will work towards having the first post-Bashir elections.

"When we have a civilian government, then we can say our country is on the right track," said Amin.

The demonstrators said they will pursue their sit-in until a civilian administration is set up.

"Last night's agreement is a step forward in the stability of our country. But I don't think we will leave the sit-in until we achieve our demand of a civilian government," said protester Sawsan Bashir.

Protest leader Ahmed al-Rabia confirmed to AFP the decision of forming a joint council.

"We are now in consultation about what percentage of the council should be represented by civilians and how much by the military," said Rabia, who is involved in talks.

Activists say the new council could be a 15-member body, with eight civilians and seven army generals.

The decision to have a joint council came after hours-long talks on April 27, the first such by a joint committee representing the current ruling military leadership and protesters.

Bashir was ousted by the army after months of protests against his three-decade rule.

Thousands of demonstrators, braving volleys of tear gas fired by security forces, reached the sprawling military headquarters on April 6, demanding that the army support those opposing Bashir.

Five days later, the army toppled Bashir but then took power into its own hands through a 10-member transitional military council.

Protest leaders had previously held several rounds of inconclusive talks with the military council since Bashir was ousted.

The military council has so far insisted that it has assumed power for a two-year transitional period.

Western governments have expressed support for  protesters' demands, but Sudan's key Gulf Arab lenders have backed the military council, while African states have called for more time for the army to hand over to civilians.

Buses bringing protesters kept arriving April 27 at the protest site, with hundreds of protesters coming from the eastern province of Kassala, an AFP photographer said.

As the joint committee met on April 27, top opposition leader and former premier Sadiq al-Mahdi told reporters Sudan should "immediately" join the International Criminal Court.

Bashir is wanted by The Hague-based tribunal for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the conflict in Darfur, but the 75-year-old has repeatedly denied the charges against him.

The war in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Khartoum's Arab-dominated government, accusing it of social and political marginalisation.

The United Nations says about 300,000 people have died in the conflict, with another 2.5 million displaced, many of them still living in miserable camps across the western region of the country.

Protest group spokesman Amjad Farid told reporters that Bashir and other regime figures could be tried in Sudan.

"We are not seeking retaliatory measures against them, but we want to rebuild our justice system to hold them accountable for their crimes," he said.

Mahdi, who was forced from office by Bashir in a 1989 coup, said the army's ouster of Bashir was "not a military coup".

But he warned that Bashir cronies were still clinging on to power despite the upheaval.

"The toppled regime might still try to do a coup," he said without elaborating.