Sudan protest leaders demand civilian rule as African Union threatens suspension

The military council's new deputy says forces will remain on the ground in Yemen until the Arab Coalition achieves its goals

Sudanese demonstrators protest outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

The main protest group behind the movement to topple President Omar Al Bashir has issued a stark ultimatum to the now ruling military transitional council – disband and hand over to a civilian administration or face sustained demonstrations.

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) piled pressure on the military commanders who have taken over, issuing a long list of demands for deeper and faster change to end repression and a ruinous economic crisis.

If their demands were not met, the group would press on with protests and not join a future transitional government, Ahmed Al Rabie, an SPA member, said.

The SPA held its first news conference since Mr Al Bashir, who ruled with an autocratic hand since seizing power in a bloodless coup 30 years ago, was ousted by the military on Thursday following four months of street demonstrations.

A new interim civilian body should be given full executive powers, with the armed forces having representation, and the Transitional Military Council (TMC) that took over last week should be dissolved, the SPA said.

"If our demand for the formation of a civilian transitional council with military representation is not met, we will not be part of the executive authority, the cabinet, and we will continue the mass escalation and the sit-ins to fulfil our demands," Mr Al Rabie said.

Sudanese boys pose for a photo with Sudanese military personnel, positioned near a bridge gate, during a sit-in protest outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

In a communique on Monday, the African Union's Peace and Security Council called for Sudan's military to transfer power to a "transitional civilian-led political authority" within 15 days or face suspension from the regional body.

Lt Gen Jalal Al Deen Al Sheikh, a member of the military transition council, met Ethiopia's prime minister in Addis Ababa, where the AU is based, Sudanese state news agency SUNA said.

"We are already in the process of choosing a prime minister" for a civilian government," Mr Al Sheikh said at a news conference in Addis Ababa.

"So we are initiating this even before having this session with the African Union. This is our conviction and this is also the way forward to peace, but also, we respect it and we are committed to the decision of the Peace and Security Council."

Lt Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, the new head of the military transition council, received phone calls from the Saudi king, UAE president, Qatari emir, Ethiopian prime minister and South Sudanese president, SUNA said on Monday. They discussed "this delicate and historic stage" and their concern for the security and stability of the country, SUNA said.

The transition council’s deputy head, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, commonly known by his nickname Hemedti, said on Monday that the Sudanese forces participating in the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen would remain there, SUNA said.

A picture taken on June 22, 2018 shows Sudanese soldiers fighting alongside Yemen's Saudi-backed pro-government forces against the Huthi rebels as they salute with their hands and firearms before a tracked vehicle on the side of a road near Al-Jah, about 50 kilometres southwest of the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.  / AFP / Saleh Al-OBEIDI

"We are adhering to our commitment to the coalition, and our forces will remain until the coalition fulfils its goals," Hemedti said.

The SPA issued its demands hours after protesters blocked an attempt to break up the now iconic sit-in outside the Defence Ministry in central Khartoum. Formed a week before Mr Al Bashir was finally forced from office by the military, the camp has endured after the president stepped down last Thursday.

Troops had gathered on three sides of the sit-in and tractors were preparing to remove stone and metal barriers, but protesters joined hands and formed rings around the sit-in area to prevent them.

Some of the most prominent SPA leaders, most of whom are in their 20s and 30s and were detained until after Mr Bashir's ouster, spoke at the news conference on Tuesday.

SPA representatives also renewed calls for the head of the judiciary and his deputies and public prosecutor to be removed. They demanded the dissolution of Mr Al Bashir's National Congress Party and said they received affirmation from the military council that the party will not participate in a transitional government.

Lt Gen Al Burhan has promised civilian rule and to “uproot” the remnants of Mr Al Bashir’s regime, the SPA want more action to be taken quicker.

The SPA also called for the seizure of the party's assets and the arrest of its prominent figures.

It demanded the dissolution of paramilitary groups that were loyal to the old government, and of the National Intelligence and Security Service's (NISS) operations authority, and called for an end to Sudan's press law and the public order law, which the SPA has said restricts freedoms.

On Saturday, Salah Abdallah Mohamed Saleh, better known as Salah Gosh, resigned as head of NISS. He was once seen as the most powerful person in the country after Mr Al Bashir and protesters held him responsible for the killing of demonstrators demanding an end to military rule.

"For us in the SPA, in the first stage, the transitional government stage, we will play a role in the restoration of the civil service and state institutions and establishing a democratic state," said Gamaria Omar, an SPA member.

"Afterwards, the SPA will be comprised of unions, and will be a guardian of democracy in Sudan," she added.

epa07508745 Relatives and supporters of Sudanese political prisoners, activists Mohammed al-Bushi and Hisham Ali (known as Wad Galiba) celebrate after their release outside prison, Khartoum, Sudan, 16 April 2019. The military council that Tok charge after the ousting of President al-Bashir two days earlier, after months of protests, had promised the release of political prisoners. Al-Bushi and Ali  were the first two released on 16 April.  EPA/STR

Outside the Defence Ministry on Monday morning, some 5,000 protesters and growing, chanted "Freedom, freedom" and "Revolution, revolution", and appealed to the army to protect them.

Some drummed and waved national flags as they mingled in the street, while others took shelter from the sun under parasols and makeshift tents.

The protest outside the compound, which also includes the intelligence headquarters and the presidential residence, began on April 6, after more than three months of protests triggered by a deepening economic crisis.

On Monday the military council said it was restructuring the joint forces command, appointing a new chief of staff for the army and a deputy.

Britain's ambassador to Sudan, Irfan Siddiq, said he had met the deputy head of the transitional military council, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, and had "asked for clarity on the whereabouts of former President Bashir and other senior former regime figures".

When the military announced Mr Al Bashir's ousting, they said he had been arrested and was being kept at a "safe place".

Sudanese sources told Reuters that Mr Al Bashir was at a presidential residence under "heavy guard".