Sudan’s military rulers and protest leaders have resumed talks to finalise a new governing body that would replace the generals who took power after ousting longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir on the back of a popular uprising.
The resumption of talks on Sunday 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 between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Alliance for Freedom and Change have started,” a statement by the military council said, in reference to the protest movement.
Earlier in the day, the alliance said it was determined that the country’s new ruling body be “led by a civilian as its chairman and with a limited military representation”.
The two sides have been divided over the composition of the transitional authority. Both want a majority of seats on the 11-member sovereign council, which would operate as the top tier of power during the planned transition period.
They had been expected to meet for negotiations over the issue earlier in the week, but the TMC suspended talks with the alliance for 72-hours early on Thursday.
It cited a deteriorating security situation in the capital Khartoum where demonstrators had erected roadblocks on several key avenues.
Before talks were suspended, the two sides had agreed on several key issues, including a three-year transition period and the creation of a 300-member parliament, with two-thirds of legislators to come from the protesters’ umbrella group.
Protesters placed roadblocks on some avenues in Khartoum, paralysing large parts of the capital to put further pressure on the generals during negotiations, but the military rulers suspended the last round of talks and demanded the barriers be removed.
Demonstrators took the roadblocks down in recent days, but warned they will put them back up, if the army fails to cede power to a civilian administration.
The generals have allowed protesters to maintain their sit-in outside Khartoum’s army headquarters.
The deputy head of the military council, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti, said late on Saturday that security forces had arrested those behind an attack on the protesters last week that killed at least five people, including an army officer.
Both the military and the protesters had blamed the attack on al-Bashir loyalists.
“The assailants who opened fire (on protesters) have been caught. Their confessions will be broadcast on TV,” said Dagalo, who heads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
Dagalo hailed the protesters for their role in al-Bashir’s military overthrow on April 11.
“We want the democracy they are talking about. We want a real democracy, fair and free elections. Whoever the Sudanese choose will rule,” he said.
Separately on Saturday, Sudanese Islamist movements held their own demonstration outside the presidential palace in downtown Khartoum on Saturday night.
Hundreds took part in the rally, the first organised mobilisation by Islamist groups since al-Bashir’s overthrow.
“The main reason for the mobilisation is that the alliance (the main protesters’ umbrella group) is ignoring the application of sharia (Islamic law) in its deal,” said El Tayeb 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 the AFP.
Al-Bashir came to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 and Sudanese legislation has since been underpinned by Islamic law.
At Saturday’s rally, hardline Muslim scholar Mohamed Ali Jazuli had a warning for the military council.
“If you consider handing over power to a certain faction, then we will consider it a coup”, he vowed as supporters chanted “Allahu Akbar” – “God is great.”
The protest leaders have so far remained silent on whether Islamic law has a place in Sudan’s future, arguing that their main concern is installing a civilian administration.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia‘s finance ministry said on Sunday that the kingdom has deposited $250m into the Sudanese central bank.
The move will strengthen Sudan’s “financial position, alleviate pressure on the Sudanese pound and achieve more stability in the exchange rate,” the statement said.
In April, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged to send $3bn worth of aid to Sudan, $500m of which would be deposited in the central bank while the rest would be sent in the form of food, medicine and petroleum products.