World / Politics

Army action feared as Sudan protesters toughen demand for civilian rule


Sudanese protesters Tuesday hardened their demand that the military men in power quickly step down and make way for civilian rule, refusing to budge from their sit-in outside army headquarters.

The country’s new military ruler, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in another apparent concession to the protesters’ demands, meanwhile fired the prosecutor general, Omer Ahmed Mohamed.

“Freedom, peace, justice,” read banners carried by hundreds of University of Khartoum professors and academic staff who marched to the protest site, demanding the transitional military council resign.

The pro-democracy demonstrators fear the army is seeking to hijack the street revolution that last Thursday ended the three-decade reign of president Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled by top commanders.

The often festive mood of the protesters has grown more tense amid fears the army will try to clear out the demonstrators with force.

Witnesses said several army vehicles had surrounded the area and that troops were seen removing the barricades which demonstrators had put up as a security measure.

Several vehicles carrying paramilitary forces deployed on a bridge that connects the protest site with north Khartoum, a witness said.

One protester, Ahmed Najdih, predicted “the army will try to make another attempt to disperse the protesters because it is under huge pressure.

“But we are not going anywhere. We will not lose our patience. We know what happened in Egypt and we don’t want that to happen to us.”

In neighboring Egypt, the so-called Arab Spring revolution of 2011 toppled veteran President Hosni Mubarak and replaced him with elected Islamist Mohammed Morsi, only for him to be overthrown in 2013 by then army chief, now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Protest leaders have gradually toughened their approach toward the military council, as policy announcements from its uniformed officers have multiplied.

Amid widespread anger at the number of faces from the old regime, the protesters secured the replacement of its first chairman, a longtime Bashir loyalist, after just 24 hours last week.

But the honeymoon of his successor, Gen. Burhan, lasted just days.

As weekend talks on the transition failed to make headway, protest leaders who initially demanded a “swift” handover to civilian rule, began demanding first an “immediate” handover then the military council’s dissolution.

The protesters have highlighted their sacrifices in murals painted outside army headquarters of some of the more than 60 of their comrades killed in clashes with the security forces.

The military council has pledged that individuals implicated in killing protesters would be held to account and that demonstrators detained under a state of emergency imposed by the president during his final weeks in power would be freed.

It has held briefings with Western diplomats and sent an envoy to the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa before it met on Sudan on Monday.

But the 55-member African Union stood by its longstanding opposition to all military coups, giving the military council just 15 days to hand over to civilian rule or face suspension from the body.

The foreign ministry said the military council was “committed to having a complete civilian government” and urged foreign governments to back it in order to achieve “the Sudanese goal of democratic transition.”

The council said Sudan would continue to provide ground troops to a Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen.

Sudan has taken heavy losses in the unpopular war but grew heavily dependent in the last years of Bashir’s rule on credit from the oil-rich Gulf Arab states to prop up the collapsing economy.

In a bid to woo Western opinion, the military council has also backtracked on its position towards longstanding warrants for Bashir’s arrest issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Having initially refused to deliver Bashir or any other Sudanese abroad for prosecution, a member of the council said Monday that the decision would be up to a civilian government.

Protest leaders say Bashir must face justice, along with officials from his feared National Intelligence and Security Service whose chief Salih Ghosh resigned on Saturday.