Huge crowd floods Khartoum pushing for Sudan handover

Sudanese protesters wave the national flag during a “million-strong” march outside the army headquarters in the capital Khartoum on Thursday. — AFP

KHARTOUM — Tens of thousands of protesters converged from all directions on Sudan’s army headquarters Thursday after calls for a “million-strong” demonstration to demand the ruling military council cede power.

The day after three council members resigned following talks with protest organizers, demonstrators flocked toward the central Khartoum site on Thursday evening, beating drums and singing revolutionary songs, said a journalist at the scene.

“We want the military council out. We want a civilian government,” said protester Adam Ahmed, a medical student.

The rally came 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.

The Alliance for Freedom and Change, an umbrella group leading the protests, had called for a million-strong march to “continue to protect our revolution and to ensure that all our demands are achieved”.

“All those responsible for the conflicts in Sudan should be tried and brought to justice,” said protester Ismail Jadallah.

Also at the protest were dozens of judges, dressed in their robes, who had marched from the constitutional court, a photographer said.

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

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

The giant rally followed 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 afterward.

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 toward “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”.

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 said.

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

The United States has backed protesters’ demands.

State Department official Makila James said Tuesday that Washington supports “the legitimate demand of the people of Sudan for a civilian-led government” and urged all parties to work together to that end.

Siddiq Farouk, a protest leader, said demonstrators were preparing for a general strike if the military council continues to refuse to hand over power.

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.

Protesters have flocked to Khartoum from across the country, including on a packed train on Tuesday which rolled in 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. — AFP