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Don’t provoke army, Sudan opposition chief warns protesters

The call by Sadiq al-Mahdi comes amid a deadlock in talks between the protest leaders and the 10-member army council on forming a joint civilian-military body to rule the country.

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.

OMDURMAN - Sudan’s main opposition chief on Wednesday warned protest leaders against any provocation of the country’s army rulers, saying they will soon hand power to a civilian administration as demanded by demonstrators.

The call by Sadiq al-Mahdi, chief of Sudan’s opposition National Umma Party, comes amid a deadlock in talks between the protest leaders and the 10-member army council on forming a joint civilian-military body to rule the country three weeks after leader Omar al-Bashir was ousted.

“We shouldn’t provoke the army council by trying to deprive them of their legitimacy, deprive them of their positive role in the revolution,” Mahdi, 84, told AFP in an interview at his residence in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum across the Nile.

“We must not challenge them in a way that makes it necessary for them to assert themselves in a different way,” the veteran politician said.

Mahdi’s elected government was toppled by Bashir in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

The former premier fought Bashir politically, and in January threw his weight behind the protest movement that finally saw the military topple the leader on 11 April.

Since then the army has resisted transferring power to a civilian government as demanded by the protesters, who have camped in their thousands outside its Khartoum headquarters in a round-the-clock sit-in.

The military has been pushing for a 10-member joint civilian-military council including seven army representatives and three civilians.

Protest leaders want a majority of civilians on a 15-member joint council with seven military representatives.

‘ASKING FOR TROUBLE’

Leaders of the Alliance for Freedom and Change, the umbrella group leading the protest movement, insist the army generals are not serious about handing power to civilians.

Protest leader Mohamed Naji al-Assam told reporters on Tuesday that the military had actually been seeking to “expand its powers daily”.

The protest leaders have even called the military council headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan “a copycat of the toppled regime”.

In a move to step up pressure on the army rulers, the protest movement’s leaders have called for a “million-strong march” on Thursday.

“I think there are some signs that some of them (the army) have been provoked by some statements from the opposition that seems to belittle their role,” said Mahdi, dressed in a traditional Sudanese turban and robe.

“If we provoke ... the armed forces which contributed to the change, we will be asking for trouble.”

Mahdi, whose party members are involved in the negotiations, expressed optimism the military would transfer power.

“They will hand over executive power to a civilian government if we present a credible, viable form of a civilian government,” he said.

This, he said, was “because they know if ultimately they settle for a military dictatorship, they will be in the same position as Bashir”.

Mahdi said it was the armed forces that had averted major bloodshed when the protesters began the sit-in to push for Bashir to go.

“Bashir was so much hostile to this that he wanted to dispel (the sit-in) even if a third of the population as he said was killed,” said Mahdi.

‘COUNTER COUP’

He said top security officials had faced a choice either to follow Bashir’s order or oust him.

“They decided to oust him instead of killing the people,” Mahdi said.

Mahdi warned that the days ahead were critical when it came to the handling of negotiations.

“All the elements that supported the previous regime are there,” he said.

“And any kind of feeling that there is chaos will be exploited by them for some kind of counter-coup,” he said, describing Bashir’s regime as one that was “despotic and unjust”.

However, he said that the current deadlock over talks between protest leaders and army rulers will end.

“Within days we will achieve some kind of roadmap ...but what we aspire for may take weeks,” said Mahdi.

“I assure you that ultimately this will be resolved, because all of us have a great interest in making this revolution a successful story.”

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