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Sudan Turmoil: Military Council Suspends Negotiations With Protesters

Negotiations over political transition put on ice as violence flares in Khartoum, leaving several demonstrators wounded


KHARTOUM– Military rulers in violence-prone Sudan have suspended negotiations over the makeup of a sovereign council designed to steer the country towards democracy until demonstrators remove roadblocks put up in parts of the capital, Khartoum, protest leaders said.

Rashid Al-Sayid, a spokesman for the Alliance for Freedom and Change umbrella group, told AFP news agency on Wednesday that the military had halted negotiations and asked demonstrators to “dismantle the barricades and “go back” to a weeks-long sit-in being held outside the Sudanese army’s headquarters in Khartoum.

Another protest leader, Ahmed al-Rabie, confirmed the ruling military council’s condition for a resumption of negotiations with the protest movement.

The development came just hours after security forces opened fire at the the sit-in in a bid to clear demonstrators from the site, which has served as a focal point for demonstrators calling for Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) to cede power to a civilian-led administration following the overthrow of longtime president Omar Al-Bashir last month.

At least eight people were wounded by the gunfire, a spokesman for the Alliance for Freedom and Change umbrella group wrote on Facebook.

A protest leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP news agency three were in serious condition.

A witness said troops from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) fired shots into the air as they moved to clear protesters from the area, which has served as a focal point for demonstrators calling for Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) to cede power to a civilian-led administration following the overthrow of longtime president Omar Al-Bashir last month.

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said the violence broke out after RSF forces – whose head is also the deputy head of the military council – tried to “remove barricades” erected around the protest site but were met with resistance by demonstrators.

“There is lots of tension in front of the army headquarters,” she said, citing earlier violence at the site on Monday that led to at least four deaths.

Ongoing talks

The violence came after the TMC announced earlier on Wednesday that after two days of talks it had brokered a deal with the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) alliance on the composition of a legislative council and a three-year transition period to a civilian administration.

Under the agreement, the opposition alliance would have two-thirds of the seats on a legislative council, TMC member Lieutenant-General Yasser al-Atta told reporters at a press conference.

However, the two sides are yet to agree on the make-up of a sovereign council, the envisaged top tier of power during the planned transition period, with both wanting majority representation.

Satea al-Hajj, a DFCF member, said: “The viewpoints are close and, God willing, we will reach an agreement soon.”

Final negotiations were due to take place on Wednesday evening, but that now appears unlikely.

Violence in Khartoum

Amid the back-and-forth, protesters pushing for a civilian-led transition have remained in the streets, including outside the army headquarters where the sit-in started on April 6.

Some roads in the centre of the capital have been blocked with stones, bricks, branches and slabs of concrete that security and paramilitary forces have occasionally tried to remove.

On Mondayو after security forces opened fire while trying to clear some protest sites, an outburst of violence left at least four people dead, including three protesters and a military police officer. They were the first deaths linked to the protests for several weeks.

Al Jazeera’s Morgan said the TMC denied responsibility for the violence.

“The military council came out and said the people who fired at protesters were not part of their forces or from the RSF,” she said, adding that the TMC said it would launch an independent investigation into the incident.

The United States blamed Sudan’s military rulers for the deaths, however.

“The tragic attacks on protesters … were clearly the result of the Transitional Military Council trying to impose its will on the protesters by attempting to remove roadblocks,” the US Embassy in Khartoum said in a statement on Facebook.

“The decision for security forces to escalate the use of force, including the unnecessary use of tear gas, led directly to the unacceptable violence later in the day that the TMC was unable to control.”

Several killed

Separately on Monday, Sudan’s prosecutor general announced that al-Bashir had been charged “with inciting and participating” in the killing of protesters during the mass protests that led to the end of his decades-long rule.

There has been no comment from al-Bashir since his removal and arrest on April 11.

The former president is reportedly being held at the maximum security Kobar prison in Khartoum.

Demonstrations against the 75-year-old were sparked by a government decision in December to slash bread and fuel subsidies but quickly escalated into wider calls for him to stand down.