Sudan braces for 'million-strong' protest march

Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans at a mass anti-government protest at the Nyala market in South Darfur, Sudan, on April 24, 2019.
Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans at a mass anti-government protest at the Nyala market in South Darfur, Sudan, on April 24, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

KHARTOUM (AFP) - Huge crowds are expected to join a "million-strong" protest march on Thursday (April 25) in Sudan to turn up the heat on the ruling military council after three of its members resigned following talks on handing over power.

The rally outside the army headquarters comes after the military rulers and protest leaders agreed to set up a joint committee to chart the way forward two weeks since the ouster of veteran president Omar al-Bashir.

"We expect huge crowds to come to the protest site, including people from outside of Khartoum," activist Ahmed Najdi told AFP.

Demonstrator Ayman Ali Mohamed was among those preparing to march in the capital.

"We fear that the military council might steal our revolution, so we have to participate until the transfer to civilian rule is accomplished," he said.

"We are standing our ground no matter what."

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

 
 
 

"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 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 toward peace and stability," the SPA said on 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'

After returning from the protest site on Thursday, activist Najdi said she was expecting "a joint military-civilian sovereign council, which I think is the middle path and most protesters would agree to that".

Wednesday's meeting was followed by the military council announcing three members of the ruling body had stepped down.

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 Mr Siddiq Farouk, one of the leaders of the protests, confirmed a "million-strong" march was planned for Thursday.

He told reporters that 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.

For the first time, Sudanese judges said they would join the sit-in on Thursday "to support change and for an independent judiciary".

'REVOLUTIONARIES' WANT CIVIL RULE

Protesters in Khartoum were joined on Wednesday by hundreds of demonstrators from the central town of Madani, the second major batch of new arrivals from outside the capital in as many days.

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

Crowds of protesters carrying Sudanese flags marched through the protest site late on Wednesday, an AFP correspondent reported.

The previous day a train laden with demonstrators rolled from Atbara, where protests began on Dec 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 told AFP on Tuesday.

Several African leaders gathered on Tuesday in Cairo, where they insisted on "the need for more time" for a transition, according to the office of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The leaders urged the African Union to extend by three months an end-of-April deadline for the council to hand power to a civilian body.