Vast crowd floods Khartoum to demand civilian rule

Protesters also gathered outside the Egyptian embassy to demand no intervention from President Abdel Fattah El Sisi

Sudanese protesters open their smartphones lights as they gather for a "million-strong" march outside the army headquarters in the capital Khartoum on April 25, 2019. Tens of thousands of protesters converged from all directions on Sudan's army headquarters after calls for a "million-strong" demonstration to demand the ruling military council cede power. / AFP / OZAN KOSE
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Tens of thousands of protesters converged from all directions on Sudan's army headquarters on Thursday after calls for a million-strong demonstration to demand that the ruling military council hands over power.

The day after three council members resigned following talks with protest organisers, protesters flocked to the central Khartoum site, beating drums and singing revolutionary songs.

"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 plan the future two weeks after the removal of veteran president Omar Al Bashir.

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

Many of those rallying chanted "Blood for blood! We will not accept compensation", demanding punishment for officials responsible for killings during Mr Al Bashir's iron-fisted, three-decade rule.

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

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

"We are here to give a message that the judiciary should be independent without any political intervention," one judge said.

But protesters expressed anger at the judges when they arrived at the demonstration.

"Leave, leave," they shouted, blaming the judges for pro-regime verdicts during Mr Al Bashir's rule.

Crowds of protesters had also gathered outside Egypt's embassy and consulate in central Khartoum, which were surrounded by riot police.

Several people held banners calling on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi not to "interfere in our affairs", after Cairo hosted a summit of African leaders who said more time was needed for a transition to civilian rule in Sudan.

Across the city, demonstrators arrived at the army headquarters from the states of Jazeera, White Nile and also from Mr Al Bashir's hometown of Shendi, boosting the ranks of those already camped at the site, many of them for 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," said Lt Gen Shamseddine Kabbashi, the council's spokesman.

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 led months of protests against Mr Al Bashir, described the meeting as a step towards building confidence.

"Both sides agreed on the importance of joint co-operation to steer the country towards peace and stability," the association said on Thursday.

The association tweeted that a joint committee was being set up to discuss outstanding problems in a bid to reach a complete 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".

Mr Najdi said he would participate in the demonstration throughout the night.

"More crowds are expected in the evening," he said. "We will continue our sit-in through the night, tomorrow and up until we achieve our demands."

The US has backed protesters' demands.

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

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

The council, led by Lt Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, said it had assumed power for a maximum two-year transitional period.

Protesters have flocked to Khartoum from across the country. On Tuesday, many arrived on a packed train from Atbara, where protests began on December 19 against a decision by Mr Al 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.

Protester Hayam Kamal said she had returned from the Gulf to take part in the protest.

"I have been living in Saudi Arabia all my life," Ms Kamal said. "I returned to call for our freedom and better living conditions so that I can come back and live here."