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Thousands converge on Sudan square for 'martyrs' rally

Friday July 19 2019

Sudanese protestors chant slogans demanding civilian rule on June 30, 2019 during a rally in Khartoum's southern al-Sahafa district. PHOTO | AFP

Sudanese protestors chant slogans demanding civilian rule on June 30, 2019 during a rally in Khartoum's southern al-Sahafa district. PHOTO | AFP  

AFP
By AFP
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Khartoum,

Thousands of Sudanese demonstrators converged Thursday on a prominent square in Khartoum in a march to honour comrades killed in the months-long protest movement that has rocked the country.

The rallies came a day after protest leaders and army rulers inked a power-sharing deal to form a joint civilian-military body tasked with installing a civilian administration -- the main demand of demonstrators.

Witnesses said men, women and school children waved Sudanese flags as they headed towards the Green Yard from different parts of the capital.

As they marched, the demonstrators shouted slogans that have been the rallying cries of the uprising that led to the April toppling of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir: "Civilian rule, civilian rule!" and "Freedom, peace, justice!"

TRIBUTE
The marches were held in response to calls from a key protest group.

"The rallies are a tribute to those honourable martyrs of the December revolution," the Sudanese Professionals Association said in a statement.

Riot police fired tear gas to disperse a rally at a central bus station in downtown Khartoum, witnesses said.

"Protesters who were dispersed are trying to mobilise again and continue with the rally. It's like a game of cat and mouse between them," a witness told AFP from the capital's Jackson bus station.

One onlooker said that many who arrived at the Green Square were in tears as they chanted slogans in honour of those killed in the protests.

"We are here to hold on to our demands since the military council is not responding to our demands. We will not give up," said Shaima Ahmed, as crowds of protesters arrived behind her.

DEADLY PROTEST

The SPA spearheaded the initial campaign which erupted in December against the government of Bashir over its decision to triple the price of bread.

Those protests swiftly escalated into a nationwide movement that led to the army's overthrow of Bashir.

But protesters kept up the pressure after his fall, rallying against the military council that took his place.

Tensions between the generals and protesters surged after a June 3 raid against a weeks-long Khartoum sit-in that left dozens of demonstrators dead.

A doctors committee linked to the protest movement said at a press conference late Thursday that 246 people had been killed since December 19 when protests first erupted, including 127 people on June 3 alone.

Another 1,353 people have been wounded since the protests broke out, it added. The authorities have given a lower toll.

POWER-SHARING DEAL

On Wednesday, the protesters and generals finally agreed a deal paving the way to a transitional civilian administration that would govern for just over three years.

But talks are set to continue Friday as the two sides push to resolve remaining issues -- including whether to grant immunity to generals for violence against protesters.

"The Alliance for Freedom and Change has made too many concessions already," said protester Safaa Mudawi as she arrived in the square.
"We are asking them not to make any more concessions."

Demonstrator Ammar Zubeir said Thursday's rally was to build "pressure ahead of tomorrow's meeting".

"This is a reflection of people's demands, so that the agreement that is reached reflects what the streets want," he said.

Late on Thursday protesters left the Green Yard, an AFP correspondent reported, adding that members of paramilitary Rapid Support Forces were deployed around the sprawling ground.

Leading Sudanese political analyst Faisal Mohamed Salih said that Wednesday's agreement was never in dispute.

"It didn't deserve formal signing or celebration... the most important thing is agreeing on the Constitutional Declaration" to be discussed on Friday, he said.

TROIKA

Prominent protest leader Ahmed al-Rabie told AFP late Thursday that the protest movement was considering asking to postpone the Friday talks.

"This is being considered so that more discussion can be held within the protest movement," he said.

But a western troika of the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway, which has been involved in mediating previous Sudanese conflicts, has welcomed the initial deal and called for the speedy formation of the civilian-led administration.

"We encourage the parties to quickly conclude the parallel constitutional agreement and form the civilian-led transitional government, which the Sudanese people have courageously and peacefully demanded since December 2018," they said in a joint statement.

"The troika looks forward to engaging a civilian-led transitional government as it works to achieve the Sudanese people's aspirations for responsive governance, peace, justice and development."