Sudan’s second new military leader in as many days accepted the resignation of the feared intelligence chief on Saturday as he faced calls at home and abroad for a swift handover to civilian rule.
Career soldier General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan took the helm of Sudan’s transitional military council on Friday when his short-lived predecessor General Awad Ibn Auf – a close aide of ousted president Omar al-Bashir – quit in the face of persistent protests.
Burhan now has the tough task of persuading the tens of thousands of protesters who remain on the streets that he is not just another general from the Bashir regime but is genuinely committed to civilian-led reform.
The new leader accepted the resignation on Saturday of the head of the National Intelligence and Security Service, Salih Ghosh, the military council announced.
Ghosh had overseen a sweeping crackdown led by NISS agents against protesters taking part in four months of mass demonstrations that led to the toppling of Bashir in a palace coup by the army on Thursday.
Dozens of protesters were killed and thousands of activists, opposition leaders and journalists arrested.
The police said Friday that 16 people had been killed in live fire in Khartoum alone over the previous two days as NISS agents led a desperate last stand for Bashir before the army intervened.
Burhan was expected to meet protest organizers later on Saturday to hear their demands, opposition sources said.
A photograph published by state news agency SUNA showed him talking with protesters outside army headquarters on Friday, before his elevation to the top job.
Khartoum erupted with joy when Ibn Auf tendered his resignation barely 24 hours after taking the oath of office.
Car horns sounded as jubilant crowds streamed out of their homes chanting: “It fell again, it fell again”.
But the organizers of the four months of mass protests that have now toppled two leaders in quick succession, called on demonstrators to keep up their week-old vigil outside army headquarters until Burhan reveals his true colors.
Ibn Auf had served as Bashir’s defense minister right up to the president’s downfall, after three decades of iron-fisted rule and was widely despised on the streets.
A former military intelligence chief, he remains under US sanctions for his role in the regime’s brutal response to an ethnic minority rebellion which erupted in the western region of Darfur in 2003.
Burhan is a career soldier who comes with less baggage from Bashir’s deeply unpopular rule.
But protest leaders say that a change of military ruler will make no difference; what they want is an immediate handover to a civilian government.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, whose grass-roots membership of doctors, teachers and engineers have spearheaded the nationwide protests, hailed Ibn Auf’s departure as “a victory of the people’s will”.
But it demanded that Burhan swiftly “transfer the powers of the military council to a transitional civilian government.”
“If this does not happen we will continue with our sit-in in front of the army headquarters and other towns,” the SPA said in a statement.
Outside the Middle East, the formation of a military government to replace Bashir has met with widespread criticism.
The African Union said Bashir’s overthrow by the military was “not the appropriate response to the challenges facing Sudan and the aspirations of its people”.
The European Union urged the army to carry out a “swift” handover to civilian rule.
Former colonial ruler Britain said that a two-year transition overseen by the military “is not the answer.”
“We need to see a swift move to an inclusive, representative, civilian leadership,” said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Members of the military council sought to reassure foreign diplomats about its intentions.
“This is not a military coup, but taking the side of the people,” the council’s political chief Lieutenant General Omar Zain al-Abdin told Arab and African diplomats at a meeting broadcast on state television.
But tens of thousands camped outside army headquarters for a seventh straight night in defiance of an nighttime curfew to keep up the pressure on the military rulers.
Bashir, who took power in a 1989 coup, remained in custody, but the military council has said it would never extradite him or any other Sudanese citizen.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued two arrest warrants against Bashir for suspected genocide and war crimes over the regime’s brutal campaign of repression in Darfur.