Month after Bashir ouster, Sudan far from civilian rule

Jay Deshmukh
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The Sudanese generals who took power after toppling veteran president Omar al-Bashir have portrayed themselves as being attentive to the views of protesters but have refused to budge on their central demand for immediate civilian rule

Sudan's army rulers and protesters are to resume talks over handing power to a civilian administration, protest leaders said Saturday, a month after veteran president Omar al-Bashir was deposed.

The Alliance for Freedom and Change -- an umbrella for the protest movement -- said the generals had invited it for a new round of talks after several days of deadlock.

The apparent invitation to fresh talks came as thousands of protesters remain camped outside army headquarters in central Khartoum, vowing to force the ruling military council to cede power -- just as they forced Bashir from office exactly a month ago.

"We received a call from the military council to resume negotiations," the Alliance for Freedom and Change said in a statement.

Late last month, the alliance, which brings together protest organisers, opposition parties and rebel groups, handed the generals its proposals for a civilian-led transitional government.

But the generals have pointed to what they call "many reservations" over the alliance's roadmap.

They have singled out its silence on the constitutional position of Islamic sharia law, which was the guiding principle of all legislation under Bashir's rule but is anathema to secular groups like the Sudanese Communist Party and some rebel factions in the alliance.

"We want to hold the talks quickly and sort out all these points in 72 hours," the alliance said without specifying when the negotiations would resume.

Protesters remain determined to achieve their goal.

"We want civilian rule or we will stay here forever," said Iman Hussein, a regular at the sit-in outside the army complex which protesters have kept up since April 6.

- Winner 'will be us' -

Protesters initially gathered at the army complex to seek the generals' help in ending Bashir's three decades of iron-fisted rule.

On April 11, the army toppled Bashir in a palace coup replacing him with a military council formed entirely of generals that has so far stymied protesters' dreams of a civilian-led transition to democracy.

A deepening economic crisis that fuelled the four months of nationwide protests which led to Bashir's ouster shows no sign of abating.

Huge queues form daily at ATM machines.

Basic goods have become ever more costly, due to the sliding value of the Sudanese pound.

The generals insist they will not use force to disperse the sit-in, which protesters have kept up even during daytime fasts for the holy month of Ramadan.

The generals have offered several concessions to placate the protesters, including detaining Bashir in Khartoum's Kober prison, arresting several of his lieutenants and promising to prosecute officers who killed protesters during the last days of the former president's rule.

But when it comes to the protesters' key demand for a civilian authority to oversee a four-year transition, the military has simply dragged its heels.

"They are pressuring us with time, but we are pressuring them with our presence here," said protester Hussein.

"One of us has to win in the end, and it will be us."

- 'Escalatory measures' -

The protest movement says the military appears intent on hijacking the revolution and determining its outcome.

Protest leader Khalid Omar Yousef told reporters on Wednesday that the movement was now considering "escalatory measures" like launching a nationwide civil disobedience movement to achieve its demand.

The generals are under pressure too, with the United States and the African Union calling on them to ensure a smooth transition of power.

In a telephone call with military council chairman General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan backed "the Sudanese people's aspirations for a free, democratic and prosperous future".

The State Department said Sullivan encouraged Burhan to reach agreement with the Alliance for Freedom and Change and "move expeditiously toward a civilian-led interim government", during a phone call on Wednesday.

But the generals have strong support from oil-rich Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have extended a $3 billion (2.7 billion euro) credit line to shore up the Sudanese pound and fund imports of basic goods.

Some members of the protest movement are optimistic that the generals will ultimately cede power.

"Because they know if ultimately they settle for a military dictatorship, they will be in the same position as Bashir," opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, the prime minister Bashir overthrew in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, told AFP earlier this month.