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Sudan generals, protesters in crunch talks on ruling body

KHARTOUM, (AFP): Army generals and protest leaders are on Wednesday expected to finalise the make-up of a new body to govern Sudan for three years, the thorniest issue in installing civilian rule.

The protest movement that brought down president Omar al-Bashir after 30 years of iron-fisted rule is demanding a civilian-led transition, which the generals have steadfastly resisted since bowing to their demands and toppling the autocrat.

The latest breakthrough came despite the talks being marred by violence that left six people dead on Monday at a sit-in held by protesters outside the army headquarters in Khartoum.

Wednesday’s crucial negotiations are due to start at 9:00 pm (1900 GMT), said Khalid Omar Yousef, a leader from the protest movement the Alliance for Freedom and Change.

“The announcement is expected after midnight,” he told AFP.

The current talks began on Monday and the two sides have since agreed on an overall civilian structure, including a three-year transitional period for the full transfer of power to a civilian administration.

They have also agreed that parliament be composed of 300 members for the transition, with 67 percent from the alliance and the rest drawn from other political groups.

The United Arab Emirates, which according to analysts backs the ruling generals, hailed the agreement on a transitional period.

It “puts Sudan on the road of stability and recovery after years of Bashir and (Muslim) Brotherhood’s dictatorship,” its minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gragash, tweeted.

– ‘All powers with cabinet’ –

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have offered $3 billion in aid for Sudan.

The composition of the new sovereign council has been the toughest part of the negotiations, with the two sides so far offering different make-ups of the body which is expected to take all key decisions concerning national issues.

The generals want it to be military-led, while the protesters insist on a majority civilian body.

“We vow to our people that the agreement will be completed fully within 24 hours in a way that it meets the people’s aspirations,” said General Yasser al-Atta, one of the members of the current ruling military council.

The new council is expected to form a transitional civilian government, which would then prepare for the first post-Bashir election after the three-year changeover period ends.

The protest leader Yousef downplayed the role of the proposed ruling council, insisting Sudan would have a powerful cabinet.

“All powers will be in the cabinet’s hand, which will be formed by the Alliance for Freedom and Change,” he said.

“Only the ministers of defence and interior are going to be with the military.”

He reiterated the protesters’ demand that the “majority of the (sovereign) council members must be civilians”.

Tensions have soared this week as deadly violence erupted at the site of the long-running sit-in protest outside the army complex in Khartoum.

The shootings that killed five protesters and an army major on Monday came a day after protesters blocked a key avenue in Khartoum, which the generals said was “totally unacceptable”.

– ‘We are optimistic’ –

The United States blamed the army for the deaths.

They “were clearly the result of the Transitional Military Council trying to impose its will on the protesters by attempting to remove roadblocks”, said its embassy in Khartoum.

“The decision for security forces to escalate the use of force, including the unnecessary use of tear gas, led directly to the unacceptable violence later in the day that the TMC was unable to control.”

The United States has consistently called on the military council to transfer power to civilians.

The protest movement, after initially blaming the militias of the former regime for the bloodshed, later accused the military council.

“We put the whole responsibility on the military council for what happened yesterday because it’s their direct responsibility to guard and protect the citizens,” said Mohamed Naji al-Assam, a prominent figure in the movement.

Thousands of protesters remain camped outside the military complex in central Khartoum awaiting the outcome of the ongoing talks.

The sit-in has become the focal point for the protest movement, overtaking the near daily demonstrations that had been held across Sudan while Bashir remained in power.

“We are optimistic about the agreement,” said protester Mohamed Adam, referring to the transitional period accord.

“It represents victory for the Sudanese people over the remnants of the former regime.”

(Sudanese protestors celebrate after the agreement was reached with the military council to form a three-year transition period for transferring power to a full civilian administration, in Khartoum, early on May 15, 2019. Photo: AFP-ASHRAF SHAZLY)

Published Date: Wednesday, May 15th, 2019 | 08:55 AM

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