May 8, 2019 / 12:44 PM / 4 months ago

Sudan's protest coalition calls for civil disobedience campaign

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese protest and opposition leaders on Wednesday called for a campaign of civil disobedience in response to what one of them described as the military’s “disappointing” answer to their proposals for an interim government.

This could put the protesters and the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) on a collision course following weeks of wrangling over how to manage an interim period after the ousting of long-ruling President Omar al-Bashir from office.

“We call for and prepare for civil disobedience,” Madani Abbas Madani, a leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF), told a news conference in Khartoum.

The DFCF, the opposition groups’ umbrella body, did not give details of what it planned. But the DFCF has led work strikes, marches, protest sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience for weeks. Protesters have also blocked bridges, roads and rail tracks, disrupting Sudan’s transport infrastructure.

Khalid Omar Yousef, another protest leader, said the aim was not to start a confrontation with the military but to speed up efforts to resolve the impasse.

Thousands of protesters have camped for weeks outside the Defence Ministry in central Khartoum and, having secured a military overthrow of Bashir, are now demanding that the TMC hand over power to civilians.

The constitutional draft prepared by the DFCF describes the duties of a sovereign transitional council that would replace the TMC, but does not specify who would sit on it. The plan, seen by Reuters, also outlines the responsibilities of the Cabinet and a 120-member legislature.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan spoke with Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the chairman of the TMC, on Wednesday and urged it to reach agreement with the DFCF that reflects the will of the Sudanese people and to move “expeditiously” toward a civilian-led interim government.

In a statement, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Sullivan also “encouraged the TMC to allow peaceful protest and the freedom of expression consistent with Sudan’s human rights obligations.”

A senior Kenyan diplomat praised the “responsible” and “patient” behaviour of the opposition protesters.

“Us as a neighbour ... send our solidarity message into Sudan to express our support for the people and to urge an inclusive process,” Monica Juma, Kenya’s chief Cabinet secretary for foreign affairs, told reporters in Washington after launching a strategic dialogue with the United States.

“We called on all parties to act with restraint ... because it is important that this process evolves in a peaceful manner,” she said.

‘IDEOLOGICAL WEAPONS’

On Tuesday, the TMC welcomed the proposals but said they neglected some important issues such as a reference to Islamic sharia as a source for legislation.

The protesters accused the TMC of dragging its feet, saying issues like sharia were not a matter for the interim constitution.

“Issues like sharia and the language of the state, those are ideological weapons the former regime (kept) using to divide the people for the issue of mobilisation,” DFCF member Yousef said.

“Muslims against non-Muslims, Arabs against non-Arabs. It’s a very dangerous thing and we are not willing to go for this game.”

Sudan’s population of around 40 million is about 97 percent Muslim, with most of the rest Christians. The country is a mix of ethnic groups, including Arabs, Nubians and other African ethnic minorities.

Opposition leaders said at the news conference on Wednesday that the TMC response would effectively give the military control of a proposed interim government.

A TMC member, Lieutenant General Yasser al-Atta, said the council was prepared to sit down with the protesters to discuss the differences.

The TMC has said it is willing to agree to a government of technocrats, but that it wants to retain overall control pending elections to prevent Sudan sliding into chaos.

Seeking to show it is heeding protesters’ demands, the council has fired senior Bashir aides, placed paramilitary security bodies under state control and ordered the dissolution of a security agency that was linked to the former president’s ruling Islamist party.

Bashir, in power for 30 years, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Sudan’s western Darfur region. He is in prison and under investigation for money laundering.

Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Nadine Awadalla in Khartoum and Ali Abdelaty in Cairo; Additional reportng by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Yousef Saba, Frances Kerry, Bill Trott and Jonathan Oatis

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