Sudan protest leaders to announce civilian government

Thousands of protesters gather outside army headquarters in central Khartoum ahead of announcement despite resistance from military rulers.

KHARTOUM - Sudanese protest leaders were preparing Sunday to unveil a civilian council that they want to take power from military rulers, who have resisted calls to step down despite mass demonstrations.

Thousands of protesters gathered outside the army headquarters in central Khartoum ahead of the announcement, a correspondent reported, a day after the two sides pledged to hold more talks.

On Friday the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which was at the forefront of the protest campaign that toppled longtime president Omar al-Bashir this month, said it would announce the civilian council at 1700 GMT.

It has invited foreign diplomats and journalists to attend the event at the rally site.

"We are waiting for the announcement today," Romaysaa Omar, one of the protesters at the sit-in area, said.

"All Sudanese people are in favour of the council to be announced by the SPA."

Whistling and waving Sudanese flags, dozens of demonstrators were sitting on a bridge at the site, rhythmically banging stones against metal.

"We will stay at the site until all our demands are met," said Al-Baraa Yousef, another demonstrator.

On Saturday, protest leaders and the military rulers held talks about a power handover and agreed to continue discussions.

"We clarified our main demand, which is the transfer of power to civilian authorities," Siddiq Yousef, a senior member of the Alliance for Freedom and Change, the umbrella group leading the protest movement, told state television after Saturday's talks.

"We agreed to continue negotiations to reach a solution that satisfies both the sides, so that the transfer of power will happen in a peaceful way."

'Want a timetable' 

On Saturday Ahmed al-Rabia, a senior member of SPA, said it was possible that the unveiling of the council could be delayed.

"If (the military council) are willing to negotiate, then there is a chance that tomorrow's announcement could be postponed," he said.

But on Sunday he confirmed that it would go ahead as planned.

"There will be a press conference today at the said time at the protest site," he said, without offering details.

Since Bashir was ousted on April 11 by the army in response to months of mass street protests, the military rulers have resisted calls to transfer power to a civilian body.

"What we want from them is a timetable to hand over power, so things don't drag on," said Rabia.

He said mounting pressure from the street and from the international community was expected to make the military council cede power in "two to three weeks".

"We are done with the easy part. We want to remove the entire regime," said Rabia.

Protest leaders say the civilian council would form a transitional government to rule Sudan for a four-year term, followed by elections.

"All we hope for is to be ruled by civilians and get rid of the military rule," said protester Ehsan Abdallah.

Many demonstrators expressed similar views as they sang, danced and chanted revolutionary songs and slogans outside the army headquarters late on Saturday.

'Negative signal' 

The military council has made some concessions to the protesters by agreeing to demands such as detaining Bashir and releasing many political prisoners and demonstrators.

Prominent Sudanese journalist Khalid Tijani said the protest leaders were in a "tough situation" over finalising the civilian council.

"If they are not ready with the names, it will send a negative signal, and this will not be to the benefit of the revolution," said Tijani, editor of economic weekly Elaff.

Calls to hand over power to a civilian body have also come from the African Union (AU) and the United States.

On April 15, the 55-member AU threatened to suspend Sudan's membership by the end of the month if the military council failed to move to civilian rule.

On Saturday, AU chief Moussa Faki visited Khartoum and held talks with the military council and some opposition figures, but no details were released. 

Washington's short-term goal is to "get the military folks out of centre-stage," a senior US official said on condition of anonymity earlier this week.

The official called for transitional authorities to prepare the way for "a truly democratic government that will reflect the will of the Sudanese people".