Khartoum – Sudan’s protest leaders and army rulers agreed Saturday to establish a joint civilian-military ruling council, a major breakthrough in talks between the two sides over demonstrators’ demands for a handover to civilian rule.
The agreement on the highly disputed issue came as thousands of protesters remain encamped outside the military headquarters since the army ousted longtime leader Omar al-Bashir on April 11, demanding that the army rulers step down.
“We agreed on a joint council between the civilian and the military,” one of the leaders of the protest campaign, Ahmed al-Rabia, who was involved in the talks, told AFP.
“We are now in consultation about what percentage of the council should be represented by civilians and how much by the military.”
The agreement between the two sides is a major breakthrough as the current army leaders had refused to hand over power to a civilian administration despite pressure from the street and the international community.
“I’m happy with the outcome of the talks. Other protesters too will be happy,” said protester Ahmed Najdi, who has regularly camped outside the army complex over the past weeks.
“We are still waiting for the final composition of the joint council.”
The new council will be the sovereign ruling body that will then form a transitional civilian administration.
The decision to have a joint council came during talks held since Saturday morning by a joint committee representing the current ruling military leadership and protesters.
The talks were the first such by the joint committee.
– ‘We won’t leave’ –
Bashir was ousted by the army after months of protests against his three-decade rule.
Thousands of demonstrators reached the sprawling military headquarters in central Khartoum on April 6, demanding that the army support those opposing Bashir.
Five days later, the army toppled Bashir but then took power into its own hands through a 10-member transitional military council.
Another demonstrator Rawan Al-Fateh said those camped out would not leave until their demands were met.
“We won’t leave until we have civil rule and laws guaranteeing freedom of expression.”
Buses bringing protesters kept arriving Saturday, with hundreds of protesters coming from the eastern province of Kassala, an AFP photographer said.
Protest leaders had previously held several rounds of inconclusive talks with the military council since Bashir was ousted.
Earlier this week, the two sides agreed to set up the joint committee to chart the way forward.
The military council has so far insisted that it has assumed power for a two-year transitional period.
Western governments have expressed support for protesters’ demands, but Sudan’s key Gulf Arab lenders have backed the military council, while African states have called for more time for the army to hand over to civilians.
Meanwhile the country’s top opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi called for Sudan to join the International Criminal Court which has indicted Bashir.
Mahdi, a former prime minister and head of the opposition National Umma Party that has backed the protests, also told reporters that the army’s ouster of Bashir was “not a military coup”.
– Call to join ICC –
Mahdi also said that “it is possible to agree on a civilian authority with the military council because they did not plan a coup”.
But he said his party would not join a civilian transitional government.
He insisted Sudan should “immediately” join the Hague-based International Criminal Court where Bashir is wanted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the conflict in Darfur.
Bashir, 75, has consistently denied the charges against him.
The war in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Khartoum’s Arab-dominated government, accusing it of social and political marginalisation.
The United Nations says about 300,000 people have died in the conflict, with another 2.5 million displaced, many of them still living in miserable camps across the western region of the country.
Protest group spokesman Amjad Farid told reporters that Bashir and other regime figures could be tried in Sudan.
“We are not seeking retaliatory measures against them, but we want to rebuild our justice system to hold them accountable for their crimes,” he said.
Mahdi, who was forced from office by Bashir in a 1989 coup, said the president’s regime was clinging on despite the upheaval.
“The toppled regime might still try to do a coup,” he said without elaborating.
As protesters were pushing the military on civilian rule Saturday, assailants hurled rocks at a meeting of members of the Islamist Popular Congress Party, an ally of Bashir’s, injuring 32 of them.
The group leading the protests and the military council condemned the incident.