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Huge crowds of protesters have rallied in the streets of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, stepping up pressure on the country’s ruling military council to cede power to an interim civilian body.

Tens of thousands of people chanting “We will protect the revolution with our blood” marched through Khartoum’s main streets on Thursday before converging outside the military headquarters, where hundreds of demonstrators have kept up a weeks-long sit-in demanding democratic rule.

Sudan’s military assumed power after overthrowing longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir on April 11.

It then established a council to govern the country for a period of up to two years, but the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded the anti-government protests that ended al-Bashir’s nearly three decade presidency, has insisted on a civilian-led administration.

“The army wants to steal our revolution but we will not let that happen,” said Samir Bakhit, a student who travelled three hours from a village outside Khartoum to join the protest.

“I’m here and will not go anywhere until the military accept our demands. We want a civilian government not another military authority,” the 21-year-old said.

Many others attending the protest also came from cities and towns in other states. Soldiers on pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns manned some of the streets along the march routes but did not interfere with the protesters.

“I came here to show that I’m standing with the young people who want freedom and justice for our country,” said Suleiman Mohamed Yakib, a retired civil servant, from Kosti, a town 312km south of the capital.

“We Sudanese have to be united, young, old men and women, to have a democratic government,” said the 71-year-old.

‘Qualitative push’

Others have been at the sit-in site outside the military compound since it began three weeks ago.

“I will keep coming back until they go and we have an elected government. We did not ask for another military men. We want civilian government,” Najwa Atif, 21, told Al Jazeera.

Thursday’s protest, in which scores of judges took part for the first time, came after the SPA called for a “million people march”.

Amro Shaaban, a Khartoum-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera that the demonstration was also the first rally that involved protesters from outside the capital and was likely to be keenly watched by the army.

“Today’s large protest will give more momentum to the opposition as thousands of people have come from other cities outside Khartoum like Atbara, Medani and Kosti. Also it is the first time that judges are participating, giving the opposition a qualitative push,” he said.

On Wednesday, the military council said it was willing to discuss the immediate transfer of power to a transitional civilian government.

“We agreed to form a joint committee, between us and them, to discuss these points of succession and to introduce a joint solution,” Lieutenant General Shams al-Din Kabashi, spokesman for the military council, said in a statement after meeting the groups behind the mass protests.

The demonstrations first began in the central town of Atbara on December 19 after the government tripled the price of bread, a staple food in the northeast African country of 40 million people, and later spiralled into calls for al-Bashir and his government to step down.

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