Protesters throng Khartoum a week after Bashir ouster

April 18, 2019 11:09 pm
There is no let-up in the protests in Khartoum, with crowds thronging to the army headquarters where a sit-in is in its 13th day © AFP / OZAN KOSE

, Khartoum, Sudan, Apr 18 – Huge crowds of protesters on Thursday thronged the Sudanese capital Khartoum a week after the army’s ouster of president Omar al-Bashir, determined to complete their revolution seeking civilian rule.

Roads leading to a sit-in outside the army headquarters were filled with demonstrators as people converged on the site chanting “power to civilians, power to civilians” and “freedom, peace, justice”.

On April 11, the army brought Bashir’s three-decade rule to an end as tens of thousands of protesters camped by the military complex in central Khartoum to demand its backing.

Numbers had dwindled following his departure, but protesters returned in force to keep up pressure for a civilian government to replace the military council now in charge.

“We are sending a message that we are not leaving this area until we achieve our goal,” said protester Ahmed.

Sudanese protesters are demanding an immediate transition to civilian rule after the ousting of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir © AFP / OZAN KOSE

“The idea is to keep the fire burning.”

Thursday’s rally was not convened by protest organisers who have led the campaign, but came from widespread calls by activists on social media.

As night fell the more and more people poured in to pack the protest camp.

Bashir, who took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, headed a brutal regime that saw conflicts across the country, the secession of South Sudan and regular arrests of opposition leaders, activists and journalists.

Protests broke out on December 19 in response to the tripling of bread prices, swiftly turning into nationwide rallies against Bashir.

The 75-year-old is accused by the International Criminal Court of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to the conflict in the western region of Darfur.

But despite detaining him, the military has resisted sending him to The Hague, saying that would be a matter for a future civilian government.

On Tuesday night, he was moved to the capital’s Kober prison, a family source told AFP.

– ‘Terrorist regime’ –

Seven days on from his ouster, the huge square outside army headquarters reverberated with demonstrators singing, dancing and demanding the dissolution of the military council.

Thousands thronged the area, including teachers who carried pictures of their colleague Ahmed al-Kheir, who died in custody in January after being arrested in connection with protests.

Graffiti scenes have sprung up around the city bearing testimony to the unfolding events in Khartoum © AFP / OZAN KOSE

He was one of more than 60 people killed before Bashir finally left office.

Hundreds more people marched in from a northern suburb carrying banners reading: “Bring Bashir to justice”.

“Bashir’s regime was a terrorist regime, a dictatorship. We are happy that we overthrew him,” said protester Mohamed Ali.

“All these decades, we have had wars inside the country. Our relations with the world also suffered under Bashir. All that has to change, that’s what this revolution is for.”

Bashir’s defence minister General Awad Ibn Ouf initially took power as council chairman, but stepped down within 24 hours following intense pressure from protesters.

The council is now headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, a career soldier largely unknown outside the army.

Protest leaders say they asked for a joint military-civilian council, but got a military council with many regime faces.

They have now hardened their demands.

Sudanese protestors shout slogans as they carry a soldier flashing the victory sign outside the army complex © AFP / OZAN KOSE

“We want the military council to be dissolved and replaced by a civilian council having representatives of the army,” said Mohamed Naji, a senior leader of the Sudanese Professionals Association which spearheaded the movement.

– ‘Dangerous waters’ –

International Crisis Group analyst Alan Boswell said the revolution was “still unfinished”.

“The security cabal which still has power in Sudan is clearly resisting demands that would force it to cede its own power,” he said.

The protesters won the resignation of feared intelligence chief Saleh Ghosh, who oversaw a crackdown on protesters that left dozens dead, hundreds wounded and thousands jailed.

But as pressure grows from world powers and the Sudanese street, all eyes are on the military council’s next move.

“I don’t think we are anywhere close to the end of the road yet,” Boswell said.

“We are hitting pretty dangerous waters.”

Both Western and African governments have pushed for greater change.

The African Union has threatened to suspend Sudan if the military fails to cede power to civilians within 15 days.

The council has offered concessions, including sacking the prosecutor general.

The United States on Thursday welcomed military orders to free political prisoners and end a curfew, but urged more moves to transition to democracy.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Washington will “calibrate our policies based on our assessment of events”.

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