Politics

Sudan's military council promises civilian government after Bashir toppled

Reuters

By Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM, April 12 () - Sudan's ruling military council on Friday promised a new civilian government, a day after the armed forces overthrew President Omar al-Bashir, but mistrustful protest leaders immediately rejected the gesture.

The council, which is now running Sudan under Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf, said it expected a pre-election transition to last two years at most or much less if chaos can be avoided.

However, later on Friday, the council said the meeting would be delayed until a later unspecified date, state news agency SUNA reported.

The council also announced that it would not extradite Bashir to face accusations of genocide at the international war crimes court. Instead he might go on trial in Sudan.

Friday's announcement of a future civilian government by the head of the military council's political committee, General Omar Zain al-Abideen, appeared aimed at reassuring wary demonstrators who went back into the streets to warn against imposing army rule after Bashir's ouster.

But the main protest group dismissed the pledge,

saying the military council was "not capable of creating change". In a statement, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) restated its demand for power to be handed immediately to "a transitional civilian government".

Bashir, 75, himself seized power in a 1989 military coup. He had faced 16 weeks of demonstrations sparked by rising food costs, high unemployment and increasing repression during his three decades of autocratic rule.

Worshippers packed the streets around the Defence Ministry for Friday prayers, heeding a call by the SPA to challenge the military council.

The numbers swelled in the afternoon and a witness estimated hundreds of thousands of protesters thronged areas around the ministry, which was guarded by soldiers.

"We do not reject a military council in principle, but we reject these people because they are from Bashir's regime," said Abdelhamid Ahmed, a 24-year-old doctor.

Sudan's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Yasir Abdalla Abdelsalam Ahmed told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that any democratic process in the country required time and called on the international community to support a peaceful transition.

"No party will be excluded from the political process, including armed groups," he told the council during a meeting on Abyei, a contested border region claimed by Sudan and South Sudan. The 15-member council convened later on Friday behind closed doors to be briefed on the latest developments in Sudan.

"Moreover, the suspension of the constitution could be lifted at any point and the transitional period could be shortened depending on developments on the ground and agreements reached between stakeholders," the Sudanese envoy said.

Zain al-Abideen said the military council would not interfere with a civilian government. However he said the defence and interior ministries would be under its control.

The military council is headed by Ibn Auf, who was Bashir's vice president and defence minister and is among a handful of Sudanese commanders sanctioned by Washington for his alleged role during the atrocities committed in the Darfur conflict.

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"NOT GREEDY FOR POWER"

Zain al-Abideen said the military council itself had no solutions to Sudan's crisis and these would come from the protesters.

"We are the protectors of the demands of the people," he said. "We are not greedy for power."

"We will not dictate anything to the people. We want to create an atmosphere to manage a peaceful dialogue," he said.

He said the council would meet on Friday with political entities to prepare a "climate for dialogue." But this was later postponed.

The council said it did not invite Bashir's National Congress Party to join the dialogue because "it is responsible for what happened".

It pledged to work with the new government to solve Sudan's economic problems but warned protesters that the army would not tolerate unrest.

"Protest is guaranteed, but it is forbidden to infringe on the freedom of others. We will be very decisive with whoever closes a road or a bridge," Zain al-Abideen said.

In the early hours of Friday, thousands of demonstrators sat themselves down outside the Defence Ministry to push for a civilian government, defying a curfew.

At the Defence Ministry compound, large tents were put up and people brought food and handed out water as the crowd grew. Ahmed al-Sadek, a 39-year-old trader, said he had not slept at his home since the sit-in began on April 6.

Activists wearing yellow vests controlled traffic around the compound on Friday morning and managed foot traffic to and from the sit-in, a witness said. They also blocked a major bridge in central Khartoum.

WORLD POWERS BACK DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION

World powers, including the United States and Britain, said they supported a peaceful and democratic transition sooner than two years. China said it would continue to seek cooperation with Sudan regardless of the political situation.

Ibn Auf said on Thursday that Bashir was being detained in a "safe place". Sudanese sources told that Bashir was at the presidential residence under heavy guard.

Ibn Auf also announced a state of emergency, a nationwide ceasefire and the suspension of the constitution. He further said there would be a curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.

But the council affirmed on Friday it would not extradite Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Bashir is facing an arrest warrant over accusations of genocide in Sudan'sDarfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to the death of an estimated 300,000 people. He denies the allegations.

The military council will not hand him over for trial abroad, Zain al-Abideen said. "We may try him, but we will not hand him over."


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