Sudan protesters cheer as military head steps down after a day

Civilian protesters rejected Awad Ibn Auf as too close to the deposed President Omar Al Bashir

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Four months of protests brought down Sudan’s leader of three decades but not even 30 hours later the man who stepped in after President Omar Al Bashir also announced his abrupt departure. Demonstrators defied orders to break up and made their rejection of the military transition offered by the army clear.

Hours after the military council sought to calm public anger by promising a new civilian government, Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf took to television to announce that he was quitting as head of the transitional ruling military council.

Lt General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan was named as the man to now head the body, Mr Ibn Auf said.

He also said Chief of Staff Kamal Abdelmarouf Al Mahi was relieved of his position as deputy head of the council.

"In order to ensure the cohesion of the security system, and the armed forces in particular, from cracks and strife, and relying on God, let us begin this path of change," Mr Ibn Auf said.

Lt Gen Abdel Fattah Burhan has been appointed the new leader of Sudan's transitional council. 
Lt Gen Abdel Fattah Burhan has been appointed the new leader of Sudan's transitional council. 

News of the change sparked joyful celebrations by many thousands in the streets of Khartoum as people chanted, "The second has fallen".

"What happened is a step in the right direction and is a bow to the will of the masses, and we have become closer to victory," said Rashid Saeed, a spokesman for the main protest group, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA).

"We are committed to our demands that we submitted to the army," he said. "We call on the masses to stay on the streets until all the demands are met."

Protesters have made it clear — they will accept nothing less than a civilian-led transition to free and fair elections.

The military council said earlier that it expected a pre-election transition to last two years at most or much less if chaos was avoided. The head of the military council's political committee, Omar Zain Al Abideen, said the body would hold a dialogue with political entities.

The announcement of a future civilian government appeared aimed at reassuring demonstrators who have been pressing since December for Mr Al Bashir's departure. They maintained the protest movement against army rule after his removal on Thursday, calling for quicker and more substantial change.

Sudanese demonstrators gather during a rally demanding a civilian body to lead the transition to democracy, outside the army headquarters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on April 13, 2019. Sudan's new military leader General Awad Ibn Ouf resigned late on April 12 just a day after being sworn in, as the country's army rulers insisted they would pave the way for a civilian government. / AFP / Ahmed MUSTAFA
Sudan has a third new leader in as many days after General Awad Ibn Auf resigned just a day after being sworn in. AFP

In a clear challenge to Mr Ibn Auf's military council, several thousand protesters remained in front of the defence ministry compound, and in other parts of the capital, as the military’s night-time curfew came into effect.

The SPA said the military council was "not capable of creating change". In a statement, the group restated its demand for power to be handed immediately to "a transitional civilian government".

Mr Al Bashir, 75, himself seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1989. He had faced 16 weeks of demonstrations sparked by rising food costs, high unemployment and increasing repression during his three decades of autocratic rule. A major catalyst for the latest was the almost tripling in the price of bread and a massive rise in the price of other staples as well as money shortages.

Worshippers packed the streets around the defence ministry for Friday prayers, heeding a call by the SPA to challenge the military council. The numbers swelled in the afternoon, with hundreds of thousands of protesters around the ministry, which was guarded by soldiers.

At least 16 people were killed and 20 injured by stray bullets at protests and sit-ins on Thursday and Friday, a Sudanese police spokesman said on Saturday.

Government buildings and private property were also attacked, spokesman Hashem Ali added.

He asked citizens to help ensure safety and public order.

"We do not reject a military council in principle, but we reject these people because they are from Bashir's regime," said Abdelhamid Ahmed, a 24-year-old doctor.

Mr Ibn Auf was Mr Al Bashir's vice president and defence minister and is among a handful of Sudanese commanders on whom Washington imposed sanctions over their alleged role during atrocities committed in the Darfur conflict that began in 2003.

Announcing Mr Al Bashir's removal on Thursday and the creation of the military council, Mr Ibn Auf also announced a state of emergency, a nationwide ceasefire and the suspension of the constitution, as well as the night-time curfew from 10pm to 4am. Those steps were criticised as heavy-handed by rights groups.

Lt Gen Al Burhan was the third most senior general in the Sudanese armed forces and is not known in public life. He was the head of Sudan's ground forces, a role in which he oversaw Sudanese troops that fought in the Saudi-led Yemen war. He has close ties to senior Gulf military officials as he was responsible for coordinating Sudan's military involvement in the war.

Sudan's deputy UN ambassador, Yasir Abdalla Abdelsalam Ahmed, told the UN Security Council on Friday that any democratic process in the country required time, and he urged the international community to support a peaceful transition.

"No party will be excluded from the political process, including armed groups," he told the council during a meeting on Abyei, a contested border region claimed by Sudan and South Sudan. The 15-member council convened later on Friday behind closed doors to be briefed on the latest developments in Sudan.

"Moreover, the suspension of the constitution could be lifted at any point and the transitional period could be shortened depending on developments on the ground and agreements reached between stakeholders," the Sudanese envoy said.

World powers, including the US and Britain, said they supported a peaceful and democratic transition sooner than two years. China said it would continue to seek co-operation with Sudan regardless of the political situation.

Mr Al Abideen said the military council would not interfere with a civilian government. However, he said the defence and interior ministries would be under its control.

He said the military council itself had no solutions to Sudan's crisis and these would come from the protesters.

"We are not greedy for power," he said. "We will not dictate anything to the people. We want to create an atmosphere to manage a peaceful dialogue".

He said the council was to meet on Friday with political entities to prepare a "climate for dialogue", but the meeting was later postponed. The Sudanese News Agency reported on Friday night that the council had asked political groups to each nominate two representatives for talks.

The council said it did not invite Mr Al Bashir's National Congress Party to join the dialogue because "it is responsible for what happened". It warned protesters that the army would not tolerate unrest.

Mr Ibn Auf said on Thursday that Mr Al Bashir was being detained in a "safe place". Sudanese sources told Reuters he was at the presidential residence under heavy guard.

The council said on Friday it would not extradite Mr Al Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He is facing an arrest warrant over accusations of genocide in Sudan's Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to the death of an estimated 300,000 people. He denies the allegations.