Demonstrators gather in Sudan's capital of Khartoum, Friday, April 12, 2019. The Sudanese protest movement has rejected the military's declaration that it has no ambitions to hold the reins of power for long after ousting the president of 30 years, Omar al-Bashir. (AP Photo)

Sudanese army holds 1st meeting with protesters since coup

April 13, 2019 - 1:49 pm

CAIRO (AP) — Sudanese political parties and movements behind nearly four months of anti-government protests met with the country's military on Saturday, activists and the military said, holding the first talks since the army forced President Omar al-Bashir from power two days ago.

The meeting came after the protest movement scored two big victories this week, first ending al-Bashir's almost 30-year rule on Thursday and then forcing the interim military leader, Gen. Awad ibn Ouf, from his post a day later. Protesters viewed ibn Ouf as too close to the ousted leader.

The movement said it has formed a 10-member delegation to introduce "the people's demands" to the military council, reiterating its rejection of military rule.

Ali al-Sanhouri, the secretary general of the Arab Socialist Baath Party in Sudan, told a news conference in Khartoum that they are calling for the creation of a "civilian sovereignty council, cabinet and a national legislative association" to rule the county during the transition.

The protesters have said they will remain in the streets until a civilian transitional council is formed. They fear the military, which is dominated by al-Bashir loyalists, will rule indefinitely or hand power to one of its own.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, who was sworn in Friday to replace ibn Ouf as head of a transitional council formed by the military, said they have invited "all spectrums of Sudanese people for dialogue."

In remarks broadcast on state TV, he said the military council will rule the country for up to two years until elections.

Burhan said he was lifting the curfew imposed Thursday, which was to last for a month from 10 p.m.-4 a.m., and declared the immediate release of all those detained and tried during the current wave of unrest, which began in December.

Al-Bashir imposed a state of emergency in February, banning unauthorized public gatherings and granting sweeping powers to the police in efforts to quash the unrest. Hundreds of people were tried before emergency courts.

Burhan, who previously served as the general inspector of the armed forces, had met with the protesters in the streets after al-Bashir's ouster and listened to their demands.

Activists, however, said Saturday that 16 people, including a soldier, have been killed in the two days since al-Bashir's ouster.

The Sudan Doctors Committee, an affiliate of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has been spearheading the protests, said 13 people were shot dead on Thursday and three others, including the soldier, were killed Friday.

It said they died "at the hands of regime forces and its shadow militias."

Sudanese police said late Friday that the 16 were killed by "stray bullets," and that at least 20 people were wounded at rallies and sit-ins across the country.

The protests were sparked late last year by price hikes and shortages but quickly escalated into an Arab Spring-inspired uprising against al-Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 Islamist-backed military coup. Earlier this month, tens of thousands of protesters joined a sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, vowing to remain there until their demands were met.

"We will never leave the place. We will shout together. We will shout to our freedom, to our liberty," protester Rami Mustafa said Saturday, speaking in English.

Security forces loyal to al-Bashir had responded to the protests with a violent crackdown, killing dozens. They attacked the sit-in on several occasions, up until al-Bashir's resignation, and clashed with soldiers who intervened to protect the protesters.

The Sudan Doctors Committee says at least 38 people, including at least six soldiers, have been killed since the sit-in began on April 6.

Al-Bashir is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide linked to the war in Sudan's Darfur region in the 2000s. The military has said it won't hand him over to the court.

The face of the coup, ibn Ouf was himself head of military intelligence during the brutal campaign to suppress the Darfur insurgency. The United States has imposed sanctions on him since 2007, saying he armed and directed pro-government militias known as the Janjaweed, accused of widespread atrocities during the conflict.

On Saturday, state-run media reported that Lt. Gen. Salah Abdallah Gosh, the head of the National Intelligence and Security Services, had resigned the day before. It did not provide further details.

Once a member of the president's inner circle, Gosh was sacked as an adviser in April 2011 for criticizing the government. He was arrested the following year on suspicion of involvement in a coup attempt, but was later pardoned by al-Bashir, who appointed him intelligence chief in February 2018.

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