Sudan army says talks with protesters to continue

Generals, protest leaders expected to come to an agreement on Wednesday on make-up of new body to govern Sudan for three years.

KHARTOUM - Talks between Sudan's ruling military council and protesters are set to resume, army rulers announced Saturday, as Islamic movements rallied for the inclusion of sharia in the country's roadmap.

The resumption of talks with the Alliance for Freedom and Change, the umbrella protest movement that brought down longtime leader Omar al-Bashir last month, comes following pressure from key world powers to get back to the table.

The ruling military council announced "the resumption of negotiations with the Alliance for Freedom and Change on Sunday".

The generals and protest leaders had been expected to come to an agreement on Wednesday on the thorniest issue -- the make-up of a new body to govern Sudan for three years that would replace the existing military council that took power after ousting Bashir.

But that meeting never took place and on Thursday the head of the military council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, confirmed talks were suspended for 72 hours.

Demonstrators subsequently spent hours meeting Burhan's demand to dismantle roadblocks which had paralysed parts of the capital.

World powers on Friday urged the generals to resume the talks.

Representatives from the United States, the United Nation, African Union and European powers called on both sides to "reach an agreement ASAP on an interim government that is truly civilian-led and reflects the will of the Sudanese people," Tibor Nagy, the US assistant secretary of state for Africa, tweeted on Friday.

The generals have allowed protesters to maintain their sit-in outside Khartoum's army headquarters, where thousands remain camped out to demand a rapid transition to democracy.

'Door of hell '

Prior to suspending the talks 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 lawmakers from the Alliance of Freedom and Change.

Ahead of talks resuming, Sudanese Islamist movements held their own demonstration Saturday outside the presidential palace in downtown Khartoum.

Hundreds of protesters took part in the demonstration, the first by Islamist groups since Bashir's ouster in April.

"The main reason for the mobilisation is that the alliance 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 said ahead of the rally.

Bashir came to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 and Sudanese legislation has since been underpinned by Islamic law but activists say that during his regime sharia was applied inconsistently.

Over the years this led to thousands of women being flogged for "indecent behaviour", women's rights activists said.

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

'Great mistake' 

The protest movement brings together a wide range of political, social and also rebel groups from the country's conflict zones, which some say triggered perceptions that it is pushing for building a new secular Sudan.

"Islam is part and parcel of the identity of the majority of the people of Sudan," Sadeq al-Mahdi, Sudan's main opposition leader and an ex-premier said in a recent interview.

He said it was a "great mistake" for some members of the opposition to "talk about secularism".

Scores of worshippers on Friday staged spontaneous demonstrations in Khartoum after the weekly Muslim prayer and criticised the protest movement.

"The Alliance for Freedom and Change wants... to build what they call a new Sudan, a Sudan without religion, a secular Sudan," said hardline cleric Abdelhai Yusef in his Friday sermon, according to a video posted on his Facebook page.

"That's why we say no, a thousand times no to this deal. We want a Sudan that is for everyone."