More protesters flood Sudan's sit-in to demand civilian rule

Khartoum (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of protesters massed around a sit-in outside Sudan’s Defense Ministry on Friday to demand that the military council that ousted former president Omar al-Bashir last week hand over power to civilians.

Protesters shout slogans and make victory signs after Friday prayers in front of the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan, April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

The crowds, which late on Thursday had grown to their largest this week as protesters tried to increase pressure on the transitional council, swelled once more on Friday evening.

Protesters waved the Sudanese flag and chanted “freedom, peace and justice”. Children sitting on a bridge nearby banged with stones on the metal pillars to the rhythm of the chants.

Some sang “The strong man walks on fire”, a military song usually used to motivate troops. Giant screens showed pictures of soldiers.

Mid and lower-ranking soldiers have won respect from protesters after protecting the sit-in from intelligence forces and riot police in the days before Bashir was toppled.

But the demonstrators distrust the commanders who took over from Bashir on April 11, forcing the first head of the military council to step down after just a day.

“The council are old men. We support young soldiers,” said Nile Khader, an exhausted 20-year-old student protester being carried away on a stretcher.

Groups opposed to the military council will present a list of mostly technocratic candidates for a civilian-led transitional council on Sunday, a top opposition leader told Reuters.

The leader, who declined to be named, said the proposed council would be mostly civilian with some military participation.

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The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), which has led the protests, said the proposal envisaged a presidential council, a civilian council of ministers and legislative council.

It said women would make up at least 40 percent of the legislative council, which would also take into account Sudan’s “ethnic, religious and cultural diversity”.

The transitional military council has said it is ready to meet some of the protesters’ demands, including fighting corruption, but has indicated it would not hand over power to protest leaders.


“If we don’t stay it will be as if we hadn’t done anything. We will stay until we oust the military council,” said 26-year-old protester Rania Ahmed.

Activists hold other parts of Sudan’s security apparatus, including the intelligence and paramilitary forces, responsible for the deaths of dozens of demonstrators during more than three months of protests before Bashir’s ouster.

Not far from the bridge, 10 effigies dressed in security forces uniform and helmets were hanging from a metal pillar, symbolizing protesters’ animosity towards them.

“I look at this every day and it brings me great happiness,” said Mostafa Abuel Qassem, a 29-year-old photographer.

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“This is the pride of the revolution,” he added.

The sit-in that began on April 6 outside the Defense Ministry was the culmination of 16 weeks of protests triggered by an economic crisis, leading to Bashir being ousted and arrested after three decades in power.

Protesters formed checkpoints at the entrances of the sit-in, wearing yellow vests and body-searching people coming in for weapons to make sure the protest remains peaceful.

Hundreds performed Friday prayers in the sit-in, while hundreds more marched to the area after praying in mosques nearby.

The SPA has called for sweeping change to end a violent crackdown on dissent, purge corruption and cronyism and ease an economic crisis that worsened during Bashir’s last years in power.

The military council has said a transitional period of up to two years will be followed by elections and that it is ready to work with anti-Bashir activists and opposition groups to form an interim civilian government.

Sudanese have been struggling with sharp price rises and shortages of cash and basic products. Many analysts blame the country’s economic troubles on mismanagement, corruption and the impact of U.S. sanctions, as well as loss of oil revenue when South Sudan seceded in 2011.

Writing by Amina Ismail and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Frances Kerry and Gareth Jones