Tensions escalated in Sudan on Monday after talks broke down between protesters and the country’s military rulers, who called for the reopening of roads blocked by sit-ins established during the uprising that drove President Omar al-Bashir from power.
The protesters, who have been rallying outside the military headquarters in Khartoum since April 6, have demanded a swift handover of power to civilians. A military council has ruled since al-Bashir was forced from office on April 11 after nearly four months of mass protests against his 30-year rule.
The military council issued a statement Monday calling for the “immediate opening of the roads and removal of the barricades” around the sit-in in Khartoum. It asked that other roads, closed by similar protests across the country, also be opened.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, which has led the protests, vowed to carry on with their sit-in. The umbrella of professional unions called for a march Tuesday and mass rallies on Thursday, when it plans to announce its own civilian transitional council in a challenge to the military.
Large crowds gathered outside the military headquarters overnight, singing and dancing as protest leaders delivered fiery speeches. Qurashi Diefallah, a protester, said the army is “just an extension of the regime, which stole 30 years from us.”
The organizers on Sunday suspended talks with the military council, saying it had failed to meet their demands for an immediate transfer to a civilian government.
Spokesman Mohammed al-Amin Abdel Aziz said the military council “is delaying its response to our proposals, saying that they are considering proposals from all political forces,” he said.
That has raised fears among the protesters that Islamists and other factions close to al-Bashir, who is now jailed in Khartoum, will have a role in the transition. They fear that could leave much of his regime intact or pave the way for another strongman.
The SPA has instead called for a Cabinet of technocrats to run the country’s daily affairs. They want a legislative council, in which at least 40 per cent of the membership would be women, to draft laws and oversee the Cabinet until a new constitution is written.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the military council, said Sunday it would hand over power immediately to a “civilian government agreed by all political forces.”
Burhan said the council had received “more than 100 visions” from various political factions for the future the county, including that of the protest organizers. He said the military would respond to proposals within a week.
Those remarks angered the protesters, who saw them as an effort to sideline the SPA by portraying it as one of many political factions.
Hani Raslan, an expert on Sudan at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said the inclusion of figures once close to al-Bashir in the military council, and its outreach to political parties that had taken part in a national dialogue with al-Bashir, had angered the protesters.
“The protesters say the council, by these actions, is reproducing the old regime,” he said. “The council could accelerate some measures against al-Bashir’s regime to calm down the situation and get the SPA back to the negotiation table.”