April 25, 2019 / 3:30 PM / a month ago

Huge crowds join sit-in outside Sudan's defense ministry

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A huge crowd massed outside Sudan’s Defense Ministry on Thursday to demand civilian rule, a Reuters witness said, challenging the Transitional Military Council that removed President Omar al-Bashir earlier this month to cede power.

Sudanese soldiers are seen on their vehicles as they move with a military convoy outside the defense ministry compound in Khartoum, Sudan, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

They were responding to a call by the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), the main organizer of protests including a sit-in outside the Defense Ministry compound that began on April 6, for a million people to join the march.

A Reuters reporter estimated the crowd to number hundreds of thousands.

Earlier, about 100 Sudanese judges demanding civilian rule had walked from the Supreme Court in Khartoum towards the sit-in, joining anti-government protests for the first time, a Reuters witness said.

Wearing their black robes, some of the judges carried signs reading “judges for change” as they marched through central Khartoum to the Defense Ministry, the witness said.

“Civilian, civilian, protected by the judiciary”, they chanted.

Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the opposition have been at loggerheads over how long it will take to move to civilian rule after the military ousted Bashir on April 11 following months of protests against his 30-year rule.

The military then established the TMC to run Sudan for a period of up to two years.

Thursday’s march was the first by judges in Sudan since before Bashir took power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989.

“We demand reform of the judiciary until justice prevails and corruption is prosecuted,” appeals judge Abu al-Fattah Mohamed Othman told Reuters.

“We demand the removal of symbols of the former regime from the judiciary and the dismissal of the head of the judiciary to achieve justice.”

Shortly after the judges’ march began, the TMC announced it would retain “sovereign authority only”, while civilians would hold the post of prime minister and head all government ministries.

“The Transitional Military Council has the sovereign authority only, while the head of the cabinet, the civilian government and all the executive authority will be completely civilian,” TMC spokesman Shams El Din Kabbashi told al Arabiya television.

RAPID HANDOVER OF POWER

The opposition has demanded a rapid handover of power to civilians. The sit-in outside the Defense Ministry, which began five days before Bashir’s removal, has continued as protest leaders press for faster and deeper change.

On Wednesday evening, the opposition and the TMC agreed to form a committee to resolve their differences.

Three TMC members resigned, the TMC said late on Wednesday, but their resignations are yet to be accepted. The members were Lieutenant-General Omar Zain al-Abideen, head of the political committee, Lieutenant-General Jalal al-Deen al-Sheikh and Lieutenant-General Al-Tayeb Babakr Ali Fadeel.

One of the SPA’s demands was that the three lieutenant-generals be dismissed and tried over their alleged role in a crackdown that killed dozens of protesters.

The SPA has insisted a civilian ruling council with representation for the military should take over.

Dozens of protesters gathered outside Egypt’s embassy in Khartoum to demand President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi not interfere in Sudan, footage aired by Al Jazeera Mubasher showed.

Slideshow (13 Images)

“Tell Sisi this is Sudan, your borders are just (until) Aswan”, they chanted.

At a Cairo meeting led by Sisi on Tuesday, African leaders agreed to give the TMC three months to implement democratic reforms, extending a 15-day deadline set by the African Union last week. Sisi holds the rotating African Union presidency.

Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Catherine Evans

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