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Sudan protesters hail breakthrough in talks with army rulers

Saturday's agreement would replace the existing 10-member military council that took power after the army ousted veteran leader Omar al-Bashir on 11 April amid massive protests.

FILE: Sudanese men chant slogans as a soldier imitates President Omar al-Bashir waving his trademark cane, on 11 April 2019 during a rally in the capital Khartoum. Picture: AFP.

KHARTOUM - Sudanese protesters Sunday welcomed a breakthrough in talks with army rulers who agreed to form a joint civilian-military council, paving the way for the civilian administration demanded by demonstrators.

Saturday's agreement would replace the existing 10-member military council that took power after the army ousted veteran leader Omar al-Bashir on 11 April amid massive protests.

"What happened yesterday is a step to have a civilian authority," said Mohamed Amin, one of thousands of demonstrators who have been camped for weeks outside the army headquarters.

"We are happy about the progress in the talks, but we are still waiting for the composition of the council and the civilian government."

The joint civilian-military council would be the overall ruling body, the protest leaders say, while a new transitional civilian government was expected to be formed to run the day-to-day affairs of the country, a key demand of protesters.

That civilian government would work towards having the first post-Bashir elections.

"When we have a civilian government, then we can say our country is on the right track," said Amin.

The demonstrators said they would pursue their sit-in until a civilian administration is set up.

"Last night's agreement is a step forward in the stability of our country. But I don't think we will leave the sit-in until we achieve our demand of a civilian government," said protester Sawsan Bashir.

Protest leader Ahmed al-Rabia confirmed to AFP the decision to form a joint council.

"We are now in consultation about what percentage of the council should be represented by civilians and how much by the military," said Rabia, who is involved in talks.

On Sunday, protest leaders from the Alliance for Freedom and Change met to discuss the progress of talks with the military council.

Later, the joint committee bringing together the military and protest leaders was expected to resume talks.

LENGTHY TALKS

Activists say the new council could be a 15-member body, with eight civilians and seven army generals.

The decision to have a joint council came after hours of talks on Saturday, the first by a joint committee representing the current ruling military leadership and protesters.

Bashir was ousted by the army after months of protests against his three-decade rule.

Thousands of demonstrators, braving volleys of tear gas fired by security forces, reached the sprawling military headquarters on April 6, demanding the army support those opposing Bashir.

Five days later, the army toppled Bashir and took power through a transitional military council.

Protest leaders had previously held several rounds of inconclusive talks with the council after Bashir was ousted.

The military council has so far insisted it has assumed power for a two-year transitional period.

Western governments have expressed support for protesters' demands, but Sudan's key Gulf Arab lenders have backed the military council, while African states have called for more time for the army to hand over to civilians.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced $3 billion (2.7 billion euros) in financial aid for Sudan following Bashir's overthrow.

Of the $3 billion, the oil-rich countries pledged to inject $500 million Sudanese central bank to support its weakening currency.

The remaining $2.5 billion was to help provide food, medicine and petroleum products, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

On Sunday, the UAE-owned Abu Dhabi Fund for Development said it would deposit $250 million in Sudan's central bank as part of the aid package.

Sudan's economy has worsened over the years, hit by multiple armed conflicts and secession by oil-rich South Sudan in 2011.

CALLS TO JOIN ICC

As the joint committee met on Saturday, top opposition leader and former premier Sadiq al-Mahdi told reporters Sudan should "immediately" join the International Criminal Court.

Bashir is wanted by The Hague-based tribunal for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the conflict in Darfur, but the 75-year-old has repeatedly denied the charges against him.

The war in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Khartoum's Arab-dominated government, accusing it of social and political marginalisation.

The United Nations says about 300,000 people have died in the conflict, with another 2.5 million displaced, many of them still living in miserable camps across the western region of the country.

Protest group spokesman Amjad Farid said Bashir and other regime figures could be tried in Sudan.

"We are not seeking retaliatory measures against them, but we want to rebuild our justice system to hold them accountable for their crimes," he told reporters.

Mahdi, who was forced from office by Bashir in a 1989 coup, said the army's ouster of the veteran leader was "not a military coup".

But he said Bashir cronies were still clinging on to power despite the upheaval.

"The toppled regime might still try to do a coup," he said without elaborating.

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