Sudan military, protesters meet in joint committee

Protest leaders and ruling military council say they are hopeful on formation of transitional body after "positive" talks aimed at reaching agreement.

KHARTOUM - Sudan's opposition alliance and ruling military council said after talks on Saturday that they expected to agree on the formation of a new body to lead the country's transition from 30 years of autocratic rule by Omar al-Bashir.

Sudan's Transitional Military Council (TMC) ousted and arrested former Bashir on April 11 following months of protests, saying it would rule for up to two years ahead of elections.

Anti-Bashir opposition groups and protesters who have kept up a sit-in outside the defence ministry want a civilian-led transitional council with military representation.

Protest leaders have held several rounds of so far inconclusive talks with the ruling military council since the army toppled Bashir. The military council has so far refused to step down, insisting that it has assumed power for a two-year transitional period.

But on Friday, it said it was in "continuous communication" with the protest movement and was waiting for it to choose delegates to the new joint panel.

'Positive steps'

The protesters have kept up the pressure on the military following Bashir's arrest, continuing their round-the-clock sit-in outside army headquarters and mobilising tens of thousands on Thursday for a "million-strong" march for civilian rule.

Western governments have expressed support, but Sudan's key Gulf Arab lenders have backed the military council, while African states have called for more time for the army to hand over to civilians.

Protesters and opposition groups, under an umbrella group known as the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces, met the TMC on Saturday to try to resolve the standoff.

"Today we have taken positive steps and we expect to reach an agreement satisfactory to all parties," said Ayman Nimir, an opposition negotiator.

"We expect to receive a response from the military council regarding the formation of a sovereign council within hours."

A TMC spokesman, Shams El Din Kabbashi, also said the talks had gone well.

"God willing the talks will continue this evening and we are very optimistic that we can reach a final result and announce it to the Sudanese people," he said.

The TMC has dismissed and arrested some former officials, announced anti-corruption measures and promised to give executive authority to a civilian government, but has previously signalled that ultimate authority will remain in its hands.

'Not a coup'

Former Sudanese Prime Minister and leading opposition figure Sadiq al-Mahdi, who said his party would not join a civilian transitional government, told reporters "it is possible to agree on a civilian authority with the military council because they did not plan a coup".

He said the armed forces had respected the wishes of protesters and the majority of Sudanese who were demanding that Bashir be removed from power.

But Mahdi, who's elected government was toppled by Bashir in the 1989 coup that brought him to power, warned that although the president had been removed, his regime was still in place.

"The head of the regime has been ousted but the regime is still present," Mahdi said, warning that powerful figures in Bashir's circle might still seek to engineer a counter-coup.

Mahdi's comments preceded reports later on Saturday that assailants had hurled rocks at leading members of Sudan's top Islamist party at a meeting in Khartoum

The Popular Congress Party (PCP), an ally of Bashir's regime, was holding a meeting of its shura council when it came under "attack", said Suheir Salah, its deputy undersecretary.

"When the participants in the meeting took a break, they came under attack from a group of people who threw rocks at them," she said, without identifying the assailants.

"Thirty-two members of the shura council have been injured. Ten cars of our party were also destroyed."

War crimes

The PCP, founded by late Islamist leader Hassan Turabi, had two ministers of state in Bashir's cabinet, including Salah, and seven lawmakers in parliament.

Turabi, who died in March 2016, was a leading force behind the 1989 coup, ushering in Bashir's Islamist regime that hosted Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden from 1992 to 1996 in Sudan.

Mahdi also told reporters that Sudan should "immediately" join the Hague-based International Criminal Court where Bashir is wanted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the conflict in Darfur.

"This should be done in coordination with the transitional military council," he added.

Bashir, 75, has consistently denied the charges against him.

The war in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic black rebels took up arms against Khartoum's Arab-dominated government, accusing it of social and political marginalisation.

The United Nations says about 300,000 people have died in the conflict, with another 2.5 million displaced, many of them still living in miserable camps across the western region of the country.