Sudan army rulers, protesters in talks over new governing body

Monday May 20 2019

Sudanese soldiers stand guard during a rally outside the army headquarters in Khartoum on May 2, 2019.

Sudanese soldiers stand guard during a rally outside the army headquarters in Khartoum on May 2, 2019. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

AFP
By AFP
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Sudan's army rulers and protest leaders remained locked in talks early Monday to finalise a new governing body that would replace the generals who took power after ousting long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir last month.

The resumption of talks comes following pressure from world powers to reach an agreement over an interim government that would be civilian-led -- a key demand of demonstrators.

The talks began at around 9pm (1900 GMT) on Sunday and were still continuing in the early hours of Monday, an AFP correspondent reported from the presidential palace where the negotiations were being held.

"The meeting is still on to discuss the transitional body," the Sudanese Professionals Association, which initially launched the nationwide protest campaign against Bashir, wrote on Twitter.

"We are not in a hurry for the crucial victory ... whatever be the outcome, it will be a step forward," it wrote without elaborating.

CIVILIAN RULE

The generals and protest leaders have been at loggerheads on the thorniest issue -- the makeup of the new governing body that would rule Sudan for a three-year transitional period after the ouster last month of Bashir.

The agreement had been expected on Wednesday, but the military council suspended the negotiations for 72 hours.

Ahead of Sunday's talks the umbrella protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change, raised the ante by insisting that the country's ruling body be "led by a civilian as its chairman and with a limited military representation".

The existing military council is headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the generals insist that the overall new body be military-led while the protest leaders demand a majority civilian body.

SHARIA LAW
On the eve of the talks, hundreds of supporters of Islamic movements rallied outside the presidential palace in Khartoum warning they would reject any deal that would exclude Islamic sharia law in the country's political roadmap.

"The main reason for the mobilisation is that the alliance (the main protesters' umbrella group) is ignoring the application of sharia in its deal," said Al-Tayieb Mustafa, who heads a coalition of about 20 Islamic groups.

"This is irresponsible and if that deal is done, it is going to open the door of hell for Sudan," he told AFP.

Bashir came to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 and Sudanese legislation has since been underpinned by Islamic law.

The protest leaders have so far remained silent on whether sharia has a place in Sudan's future, arguing that their main concern is installing a civilian administration.

Saudi Arabia meanwhile on Sunday deposited $250 million in Sudan's central bank as part of an aid package it announced following Bashir's ouster.

The UAE said on April 28 it was depositing $250 million in Sudan's central bank.

The oil-rich Gulf states have also pledged $2.5 billion in aid to help provide food, medicine and petroleum products.

ECONOMIC CRISIS
It was Sudan's worsening economic crisis that triggered nationwide protests against Bashir.

Before talks were suspended earlier this week, the generals and protest leaders had agreed on several key issues, including a three-year transition period and the creation of a 300-member parliament, with two thirds of lawmakers to come from the protesters' umbrella group.

But those talks were marred by violence after five protesters and an army major were shot dead near the ongoing sit-in outside the military headquarters in central Khartoum, where thousands have camped out for weeks.

Initially, the protesters gathered to demand Bashir resign -- but they have stayed put, to pressure the generals into stepping aside.

The protesters had also erected roadblocks on some avenues in Khartoum to put further pressure on the generals during negotiations, but the military rulers demanded that they be removed.

Protesters duly took the roadblocks down in recent days -- but they said they will put them back up, if the army fails to transfer power to a civilian administration.

The generals have allowed protesters to maintain their sit-in outside army headquarters.

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