Sudan protesters continue sit-in outside army HQ

Army rulers, protest leaders differ on forming joint council to rule Sudan.

KHARTOUM - Sudan's leading protest group called Tuesday for a mass rally, as tensions mounted over the makeup of a new joint civilian-military council to run the country.

Demonstrators reinforced their barricades outside the army headquarters in Khartoum after the two sides failed to agree on the number of council seats for civilian and military representatives.

The joint body is supposed to replace the Transitional Military Council (TMC) that took power after the army ousted veteran president Omar al-Bashir on April 11 in the face of mass protests against his three-decade rule.

But the two sides are at odds over its composition, with the military pushing for a 10-member council including seven military representatives and three civilians.

Protest leaders want a majority of civilians on a 15-member joint council along with seven military representatives.

Adding to the deepening discord, the military council said that six security personnel were killed in clashes with protesters across the country on Monday.

"In different incidents, six people from the security forces were killed and 16 wounded," the council's deputy chief Mohamed Hamadan Dagolo, widely known as Himeidti, said.

"There were incidents of burning of markets, looting of money," he said, adding that protest leaders told the military council that anything happening outside the Khartoum sit-in does not represent them.

All the revolution's goals

A military spokesman had said after the meeting of the joint panel on Monday he hoped a final structure for the new transitional body could be agreed soon.

The talks came after the two sides on Saturday agreed to form a joint civilian-military body to rule the northeast African country.

"The military council has presented its vision for a 10-member joint council, with seven military representatives and three civilians," a spokesman for the existing ruling military council Lieutenant General Shamseddine Kabbashi told reporters.

"The Alliance for Freedom and Change presented its vision of a 15-member joint council, with eight civilians and seven military representatives," he said, referring to the group that is leading the protest movement that has rocked Sudan for more than four months.

Kabbashi said Monday's talks ended with both sides agreeing to consider each other's views and defended the military's demand for a majority in the joint council.

"The necessities that made us take the people's side are still present and that's why it merits for us to be in the sovereign council," he said, without clarifying why the army generals were insisting on having a majority in the joint council.

He said that talks would continue on Tuesday.

In a statement, the protest leaders' alliance confirmed that no agreement was reached over the composition of the sovereign council.

It also said that both sides will present proposals on transitional structures, including a future civilian government and legislative body, and their respective powers, within 24 hours

"Our sit-ins and marches shall continue until all the revolution's goals are achieved," the alliance added.

Transport links to open

Kabbashi said that during Monday's talks it was agreed with protest leaders to open some roads, a railway line and two bridges that lead to - or pass near - the military headquarters where protesters continue to rally.

When asked whether by doing this the army was planning to disperse the sit-in, he said: "That's not what we are saying".

Late Monday, a Sudanese protest group said the army was trying to remove barricades and disperse the sit-in outside the military headquarters, but witnesses said troops had not moved in.

"The military council is a copy cat of the toppled regime. The army is trying to disperse the sit-in by removing the barricades," said the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the group that first launched the protest movement against Bashir's regime.

"We are calling on our people to come immediately to the sit-in area. We are calling on the revolutionaries to protect the barricades and rebuild them."

But the council's deputy head insisted it was "not against" the Khartoum sit-in.

"We are not against the continuation of the sit-in and we offered to help in providing support for protesters during Ramadan," Himeidti told reporters.

Lieutenant General Salah Abdelkhalik, also a member of the ruling military council, said that the army "will never use violence against protesters".

"We have no interest in dispersing the sit-in but it's in the interest of the Sudanese people to open the roads," said Abdelkhalek.

He also distanced the TMC from the previous government.

"We are part of the revolution and not part of the former regime as people view us."

During the press conference, the TMC also said it had accepted the resignations of three TMC members. The SPA had demanded that the three be dismissed over their alleged role in a crackdown that killed dozens of protesters.

One of the three members, who resigned last week, was Lieutenant-General Omar Zain al-Abideen who headed the TMC's political committee. The other two were Lieutenant-General Jalal al-Deen al-Sheikh and Lieutenant-General Al-Tayeb Babakr Ali Fadeel.

Power to civilians

Witnesses at the sit-in in Khartoum said that protesters were building up some of the makeshift roadblocks.

"These barricades are for protecting us. We don't want any military vehicle to enter the sit-in area. We will not move until we have civilian rule," a protester said.

A joint council, if agreed, would replace the existing 10-member military council that took power after the army ousted Bashir.

The creation of a joint council would pave the way for a civilian administration as demanded by protesters.

Protest leaders say the joint civilian-military council would be an overall ruling body, while they want a separate transitional civilian administration to run the country's day-to-day affairs.

That civilian government would work towards the first post-Bashir elections, protest leaders say.

The military council has so far insisted it has assumed power for a two-year transitional period.

Thousands of protesters first massed outside the army headquarters on April 6, demanding that the armed forces back them in ousting Bashir.

Five days later, the army took power through the TMC, having deposed Bashir, after months of protests that began with unrest over a tripling of bread prices.

Since then the 10-member council of generals has continued to resist calls to step down.

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