Sudan’s ruling military council has begun talks with organisers of mass protests demanding a civilian-led transition to democracy after the overthrow of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir.
Saturday’s meeting in the capital, Khartoum, came as the new head of the council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, promised to hand over power to a civilian government within two years following consultations with opposition groups.
“I invite all the people of Sudan, including political parties and civil society groups to engage in dialogue,” al-Burhan said in his first televised address to the nation.
The military overthrew al-Bashir on Thursday after almost four months of protests calling for an end to his nearly 30-year rule. General Awad Ibn Auf initially took over as head of the military council, but he resigned just a day later amid a public outcry, with protesters saying he was too close to the deposed leader.
Al-Burhan, who previously served as the general inspector of the armed forces, had met with the protesters in the streets after al-Bashir’s removal and listened to their demands.
The protesters have said they will remain in the streets until a civilian transitional government, as outlined in the so-called Declaration of Freedom and Change signed by various political and professional groups in January, is formed.
They fear the military, which is dominated by al-Bashir loyalists, will rule indefinitely or hand power to one of its own.
Speaking to reporters minutes before al-Burhan’s address, political parties and movements behind the protests said they were ready to meet with the military to discuss the transition and announced the formation of a 10-member delegation to introduce the people’s demands to the military council.
“We and all the opposition parties refuse to hand over power to the military. We want a totally civil leadership,” said Salah Sanhori, a member of the Baath Party.
‘We will never leave’
Meanwhile, the Sudanese Professionals Association, the umbrella group at the forefront of the protests, urged demonstrators to continue a seven-day sit-in outside the army headquarters in Khartoum.
The meeting between the protest organisers and the military leaders was taking place inside the compound.
“We will never leave the place. We will shout together. We will shout to our freedom, to our liberty,” protester Rami Mustafa told Reuters news agency, speaking in English.
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from the capital, said despite al-Burhan’s apparent conciliatory gestures, key differences remain.
“It’s very hard to see the military council saying to the protests organisers: ‘We will step back and let you run the show’,” she said, adding: “Ultimately, those who will decide the fate of the council and the talks are the people who have been protesting for nearly four months now.”
Sudan’s protests began in December, sparked by high food prices, but quickly escalated into an uprising against al-Bashir, who seized power in a bloodless 1989 military coup.
Security forces loyal to al-Bashir responded to the protests with a violent crackdown, killing dozens of protesters, according to activists.
The Sudan Doctors Committee says at least 38 people, including at least six c who intervened to protect the protesters, have been killed since the sit-in began on April 6. A spokesman for the police said at least 16 people were killed by stray bullets at protests and sit-ins on Thursday and Friday.
In his address, al-Burhan promised to bring to justice those involved in the killing of protesters and lifted a nighttime curfew imposed by his predecessor. He also vowed to “uproot the regime” of al-Bashir and its symbols.
Earlier on Saturday, state-run media announced the resignation of Lieutenant General Salah Abdallah Gosh, who as head of the National Intelligence and Security Services had overseen the crackdown against the protesters.
Once a member of the president’s inner circle, Gosh was sacked as an adviser in April 2011 for criticising the government. He was arrested the following year on suspicion of involvement in a coup attempt, but was later pardoned by al-Bashir, who appointed him intelligence chief in February 2018.