KHARTOUM, (AFP): Crowds of Sudanese demonstrators converged outside the army headquarters in Khartoum Thursday for a “million-strong” march demanding a civilian administration as talks with the country’s military rulers remained deadlocked.
The two sides have agreed on forming a joint civilian-military council to rule Sudan but are at odds over its composition.
The proposed joint council is to replace the existing 10-member ruling body of army generals that took over after the military ousted veteran president Omar al-Bashir three weeks ago.
But protest leaders from the Alliance for Freedom and Change say the generals are not serious about handing power to civilians.
The army has been pushing for a 10-member council of seven military representatives and three civilians.
The alliance is demanding a council made up of eight civilians and seven generals.
The disagreement prompted the alliance to announce the “million-strong march to assert our main demand, which is for civilian rule”.
The call has exacerbated tensions between the two sides.
“We expect the march to draw huge crowds tody,” Ahmed al-Rabia, a leader from the protest movement told AFP.
– ‘Asking for trouble’ –
Protest leaders Thursday handed the military council proposals for the new civilian structures they want to see rule the country eventually, including executive and legislative bodies.
As the wrangling persisted, the crowds flocked to the army headquarters in central Khartoum to join the thousands who have remained camped there round-the-clock for weeks.
The military council has warned it will not allow “chaos” and urged protesters to dismantle makeshift barricades they have set up around the location.
It also demanded demonstrators open roads and bridges that have remained blocked as rallies continue in the wake of Bashir’s departure.
The bulk of the crowd was expected to converge at the protest site after the worst of the day’s heat had passed on Thursday.
But those already filling the square kept up a festive atmosphere with loudspeakers blaring out revolutionary songs and vendors selling fruits and peanuts.
In a bid to get their differing views across the military and protester leaders held separate news conferences Tuesday.
“The military council is not serious about handing over power to civilians,” said Mohamed Naji al-Assam, a leader of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) spearheading the protests.
In an interview with AFP Wednesday, Sadiq al-Mahdi, Sudan’s former premier and main political opponent of Bashir, warned protest leaders against provoking the military.
“If we provoke the… armed forces which contributed to the change, we would be asking for trouble,” said Mahdi, whose National Umma Party is part of the protest movement.
– ‘No chaos’ –
The military council’s deputy head Mohammad Hamdan Dagolo has said it is “committed to negotiations but (will allow) no chaos”.
Hamdan, widely knowns as Himeidti, spoke of incidents since the protests first broke out in December including looting and burning of markets. He said across the country six security personnel were killed during protests on Monday.
The spokesman of the military council Shamseddin al-Kabbashi said the “armed forces must remain in the sovereign council” because of tensions facing the country.
The announcement on the joint civilian-military council on Saturday was seen as a breakthrough aimed at paving the way for detailed negotiations on a roadmap for the formation of a civilian government.
But Rabia said Thursday that no date had been set for further talks with the military council to iron out their remaining differences.
The Alliance for Freedom and Change later insisted that the transitional administration must include representatives from armed groups who spent years battling Khartoum, without naming specific groups.
Rebels took up arms in the western region of Darfur in 2003, prompting the regime to unleash tribal militias in a conflict the UN says killed 300,000 people and saw Bashir accused of genocide.
Other conflicts in the southern states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan have also left thousands dead.
The protesters have won support from Western governments for their demand of civilian rule.
But Gulf Arab states have provided the military council with a three billion dollar (2.7 billion euro) credit lifeline to support an “orderly” transition.
The African Union on Tuesday gave Sudan’s military rulers another 60 days to hand over power to a civilian authority or face suspension, after an earlier deadline was missed.
(Sudan protest leaders have called for a ‘million-strong’ march to put pressure on the army as talks drag on over who should run the country. Photo: AFP)
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