Sudan converge on army HQ for ‘million-strong’ protest

KHARTOUM (AFP): Sudanese marchers converged from all directions on army headquarters for a “million-strong” demonstration Thursday to turn up the heat on the ruling military council after three of its members resigned following talks on handing over power.

The rally comes after Sudan’s new military rulers and protest leaders agreed to set up a joint committee, to chart the way forward two weeks after the ouster of veteran president Omar al-Bashir.

“We call on our people, who have been demanding a transitional civilian rule, to participate in the million-strong march,” said the Alliance for Freedom and Change, the umbrella group leading the protests.

“Our sit-in will continue to protect our revolution and to ensure that all our demands are achieved,” the alliance said in a statement.

Witnesses said marchers were closing in on the main protest site from different directions.

They included dozens of judges, dressed in their robes, rallying from the constitutional court, an AFP photographer said.

“We are here to give a message that the judiciary should be independent without any political intervention,” a judge told journalists.

An AFP photographer said in downtown Khartoum crowds of protesters gathered earlier outside Egypt’s embassy and consulate, which were surrounded by riot police.

Several people held banners calling on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi not to “interfere in our affairs”, after Cairo hosted a summit of African leaders calling for more time for a transition to civilian rule in Sudan.

Across the city, demonstrators arrived at the army headquarters from the states of Jazeera, White Nile and also from Bashir’s hometown Shendi, increasing the numbers already camped at the site, many of them for the past several weeks.

The planned mass march follows a late-night meeting between the military council and leaders of the protest movement’s umbrella group.

“We have an agreement on most demands presented in the document of the Alliance for Freedom and Change,” Lieutenant General Shamseddine Kabbashi, spokesman of the military council, told reporters afterwards.

He did not elaborate on the key demand of handing power to a civilian government, but said there “were no big disputes”.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, which initially spearheaded months of protests against Bashir, described the meeting as a step towards “confidence-building”.

“Both sides agreed on the importance of joint cooperation to steer the country towards peace and stability,” the SPA said Thursday.

Writing on Twitter, the association said a “joint committee” was being set up to “discuss outstanding disputes” as part of efforts to reach a “comprehensive agreement”.

  • ‘Middle path’ –

On Thursday, activist Ahmed Najdi said he was expecting “a joint military-civilian sovereign council, which I think is the middle path and most protesters would agree to that”.

He said he would participate in the demonstration throughout the night.

“More crowds are expected in the evening. We will continue our sit-in through the night, tomorrow and up until we achieve our demands,” Najdi told AFP.

Wednesday’s meeting was followed by the military council announcing three members of the ruling body had stepped down after demands from protesters.

They were Lieutenant General Omar Zain al-Abdin, Lieutenant General Jalaluddin Al-Sheikh and Lieutenant General Al-Tayieb Babikir.

The late-night developments came as Siddiq Farouk, one of the leaders of the protests, said the demonstrators were also preparing for a general strike if the military council refuses to hand power to a civilian administration.

The council, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan since his predecessor quit after barely 24 hours in the post, says it has assumed power for a two-year transitional period.

Despite Bashir’s fall, demonstrators have kept up their encampment outside the military headquarters to press their demands.

  • ‘Revolutionaries’ want civil rule –

Protesters in Khartoum were joined Wednesday by hundreds of demonstrators from the central town of Madani.

“Revolutionaries from Madani want civilian rule,” they chanted, according to witnesses.

The previous day a train laden with demonstrators rolled in from Atbara, where protests began on December 19 against a decision by Bashir’s government to triple bread prices.

They swiftly turned into nationwide rallies against his rule and that of the military council that took his place.

The protesters have found support in Washington, which has backed their call for civilian rule.

“We support the legitimate demand of the people of Sudan for a civilian-led government, and we are here to urge and to encourage parties to work together to advance that agenda as soon as possible,” State Department official Makila James said Tuesday.