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Sudan's military seeks to keep upper hand despite protests

Protesters have massed outside the army complex in central Khartoum since April 6, initially to demand the overthrow of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir as the military council says it intends to keep the upper hand during the nation's transition to civilian rule. Despite international support for the protesters, the 10-member council has so far resisted, although three of its members resigned on Wednesday under pressure from the street.

Sudan's military, which took over the country after ousting President Omar al-Bashir, said it intends to keep the upper hand during the nation's transition to civilian rule. The announcement was a blow to the protesters who said Friday they will stay on the streets till all their demands are met.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, which has spearheaded the four months of protests that toppled al-Bashir after a 30-year rule, is demanding an immediate handover of power.

Shams al-Deen al-Kabashi, the spokesman for the military council, said late Thursday that the military will "maintain sovereign powers" while the Cabinet would be in the hands of civilians during the transitional period and until elections are held.

"This is disappointing and we did not expect to hear that," said Ahmed Rabie, a leader in the SPA, an umbrella of independent Sudanese unions. "For us, this option is completely unacceptable."

Earlier this week, the SPA resumed talks with the military council after briefly halting the negotiations and accusing the military on stalling on relinquishing its grip following al-Bashir's ouster and arrest on April 11.

The protesters say they want a transitional council with "limited military representation" to run the country, along with an interim Cabinet until a new constitution is drafted.

The military has tried to appease the protest leaders. After talks resumed, the council announced that three of its members, widely hated for their ties to al-Bashir had resigned.

The move made some in the protest movement think that negotiations with the military council may eventually bear fruit.

But Rabie said Friday that after the latest announcement, one wonders "whether the council has more than one center of power and whether all its members agree among themselves."

Since al-Bashir's ouster, the protesters have expressed fears the military will cling to power and undermine all attempts to instate a civilian government in a country that lived for decades under military dictatorship.

"If the military insist on holding to sovereign powers, we will escalate our protests," said Rabie, adding that protesters can call for national strike and civil disobedience.

SUDAN PROTESTERS KEEP UP CAMPAIGN FOR CIVILIAN RULE
Thousands of Sudanese protesters performed the weekly Muslim prayers outside army headquarters on Friday, a day after vast crowd of demonstrators flooded Khartoum to demand the military rulers cede power.

Protesters have massed outside the army complex in central Khartoum since April 6, initially to demand the overthrow of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir.

But since his ouster by the army on April 11, the protesters have kept up their sit-in, demanding that the military council that took over hand power to a civilian administration.

Despite international support for the protesters, the 10-member council has so far resisted, although three of its members resigned on Wednesday under pressure from the street.

The resignations triggered jubilation among the protesters, who massed in their tens of thousands on Thursday in response to a call from their leaders for a "million-strong" march.

Despite the scorching heat, the protesters were back in numbers on Friday, an AFP correspondent reported.

"Freedom, freedom," they chanted as prayer leader Sheikh Matter Younis delivered the sermon.

"We will not retreat until we get our main demand of civilian rule," said Younis, an activist from Sudan's war-torn western region of Darfur.

He also called for the "symbols" of the old regime to be punished.

"They must face fair and transparent justice, they have to be held accountable," he said, as the protesters chanted "Blood for blood! We will not accept compensation!".

- 'WE ARE ALL DARFUR' -
Another Darfuri, Harun Adam, said his family lived in Kalma, one of the sprawling camps that are still home to hundreds of thousands of people who were driven from their homes by the Bashir government's brutal response to the ethnic minority rebellion which erupted in 2003.

"I'm here since April 6," when the sit-in started, Adam told AFP.

"I'm ready to stay here for a year until we get our main demand, which is a civilian government and that all those who committed crimes be held accountable."

Behind him crowds chanted "One, two, three, four, we are all Darfur!"

The military council, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, says it has assumed power for a two-year transitional period.

Protest leaders have held several rounds of talks with the council and the two sides have agreed to set up a joint committee to chart the way forward but there has so far been no breakthrough.

Washington has thrown its weight behind the protesters.

State Department official Makila James said on Tuesday that Washington supports "the legitimate demand of the people of Sudan for a civilian-led government" and urged all parties to work together to that end.

But at a summit hosted by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Tuesday, African leaders conceded that more time was needed for a transition to civilian rule.

Their statement angered the protesters who held a rally outside the Egyptian embassy on Thursday.

The African Union had taken a strong line setting an end of April deadline for the military council to hand power to civilians or face suspension from the 55-nation bloc.

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