Sudan protesters hail landmark deal with generals

Wednesday March 18 2020
Sudan

African union envoy to Sudan Mohamed al-Hacen Lebatt (L) sits next to Sudan's deputy chief of the ruling military council General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo as he shakes hands with an army general following a press conference in Khartoum on a landmark deal between generals and protesters, July 5, 2019. PHOTO | EBRAHIM HAMID | AFP

By AFP

KHARTOUM,

Crowds of jubilant Sudanese took to the streets of Khartoum on Friday to celebrate a landmark deal between protest leaders and the country's ruling generals aimed at turning the page on months of political unrest.

The power-sharing deal, reached in the early hours after two days of hard-won talks brokered by Ethiopian and African Union mediators, came after previous negotiations collapsed in May over who should lead the new body -- a civilian or soldier.

"The two sides agreed on establishing a sovereign council with a rotating military and civilian (presidency) for a period of three years or little more," African Union (AU) mediator Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt told reporters.

Sudan has been gripped by political deadlock since the generals ousted long-time President Omar al-Bashir in a palace coup in April following months of mass protests nationwide.

"We want to reassure all political forces and armed movements and all those who took part in the change... that this agreement... does not exclude anyone," the ruling military council's number two, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, said after the deal was reached.

VICTORY

The group that initially launched demonstrations against Mr Bashir in December hailed the agreement.

"Today, our revolution has become victorious and our victory shines," the Sudanese Professionals Association said in a statement.

Tension between the two sides had soared after a brutal raid on a longstanding protest camp outside army headquarters in Khartoum that killed dozens of demonstrators and wounded hundreds on June 3.

Mr Lebatt did not specify the exact make-up of the new ruling body, but prominent protest leader Ahmed al-Rabie told AFP it would comprise six civilians, five of them protest movement nominees, and five military representatives.

The SPA said a final draft of the agreement would be ready for the two sides to sign on Monday.

It said the transition would last three years and three months, with the first 21 months presided over by a military nominee, and the last 18 months by a civilian.

'MARTYRS'

People celebrated on the streets of Khartoum well into Friday.

Chants of "the martyrs' blood has not been shed in vain" and "civilian rule, civilian rule," reverberated around the city as security forces kept a low profile, an AFP correspondent reported.

"Today we can say that our revolution has embarked on the right path in achieving our goals," said north Khartoum resident Somaiya Hassan.

"I think we will be able to change the horrible situation of our people," she said, as fellow residents flashed victory signs and waved national flags.

OTHER REACTIONS

The deal was swiftly welcomed by the United Arab Emirates, which like other Gulf Arab states has been sympathetic to the ruling generals.

"We hope that the next phase will be the establishment of a strong constitutional system that strengthens the role of institutions," UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter.

Rights group Amnesty International said it hoped the deal ends the "horrific crimes" committed against Sudanese people for decades.

"This agreement must be judged by how those in power now live up to their responsibilities to respect people's fundamental rights," Amnesty's Kumi Naidoo said in a statement.

PARLIAMENT

Mr Lebatt said the two sides had agreed to postpone the establishment of a transitional Parliament.

Before talks collapsed in May, the generals and protest leaders had agreed on a 300-member legislature, with two-thirds of lawmakers hailing from the protest movement.

Mr Lebatt said the two sides have also agreed to "a detailed, transparent, national, independent investigation into all the regrettable violent incidents that the country faced in recent weeks", including the June 3 raid.

At least 136 people have been killed nationwide since June 3, including more than 100 on the day of the raid, according to doctors close to the umbrella protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change.

The health ministry says 78 people have been killed nationwide over the same period.

EMPOWERMENT

The military council insists it did not order the violent dispersal of the sit-in, although witnesses have said the raid was carried out by men in military fatigues.

"Too many young people have died, and the military must now empower civilians," said Fatima, 50, a tea seller near a mosque in Khartoum's twin city Omdurman.

On Sunday, protest leaders mobilised tens of thousands in the first mass rally against the generals since the raid.

It had been seen as a test for the protest leaders' ability to mobilise crowds after the generals imposed a widespread internet blackout and heavily deployed security forces.