April 15, 2019 / 8:08 AM / 3 days ago

Sudan's main protest group calls for civilian transitional council

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The Sudanese group that led protests against deposed President Omar al-Bashir called on Monday for the transitional military council that has taken power to be disbanded and for a new interim civilian ruling council to be formed.

Representatives of 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, told Reuters.

The SPA held its first news conference since Bashir, who ruled with an autocratic hand since seizing power in a coup 30 years ago, was ousted by the military on Thursday following 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,” Rabie told Reuters.

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 AU.

Lieutenant General Jalal al-Deen al-Sheikh, a member of the TMC, 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,” 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.”

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the TMC, received phone calls from the Saudi king, UAE president, Qatari emir, Ethiopian prime minister and South Sudanese president, SUNA said on Monday. They expressed support for the TMC in “this delicate and historic stage” and their concern for the security and stability of the country, SUNA said.

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

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

PROTESTERS DEFLECT BID TO END SIT-IN

The SPA issued its demands hours after protesters blocked an attempt to break up a sit-in outside the Defence Ministry that has continued despite Bashir’s exit, a Reuters witness said.

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 Bashir’s ouster, spoke at the news conference.

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 Bashir’s National Congress Party and said they received affirmation from the TMC that the party will not participate in a transitional government.

Members of a traditional Sudanese band perform during a sit-in protest outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

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 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.

Outside the Defence Ministry on Monday, the protesters, numbering about 5,000 in the morning with more arriving, 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 Dagalo, and had “asked for clarity on whereabouts of former President Bashir and other senior former regime figures”.

Slideshow (10 Images)

When the military announced Bashir’s ousting, they said he had been arrested and was being kept at a “safe place”. Sudanese sources told Reuters that Bashir was at a presidential residence under “heavy guard”.

(This story corrects sourcing in paragraph 9)

Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; writing by Yousef Saba and Aidan Lewis; editing by Mark Heinrich and Tom Brown

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