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Sudan anti-coup protests stay on the streets, rejecting army offer

Sudanese protesters gather in the capital Khartoum on July 5, the latest in a series of rallies since an October military coup. ©AFP

Khartoum (AFP) - Sudanese anti-coup protesters manned barricades on the streets of the capital Wednesday, saying they did not believe promises by the army chief he would make way for a civilian government.

A day after Sudan's main civilian bloc rejected a proposal by the country's coup leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan as a "giant ruse" and urged more protests, crowds of demonstrators held firm in rallies in both Khartoum and its suburbs.

The transitional government uprooted by Burhan last year had been painstakingly forged between the military and civilian factions in 2019, following mass protests that prompted the army to oust longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Burhan in a surprise move Monday vowed to "make room" for civilian groups to form a new transitional government.

He also said that the ruling Sovereign Council would be disbanded and, on Wednesday in an apparent move to carry out the process, Burhan issued a decree relieving five civilian members of their posts.

But any hopes of the army chief it would help stem protests were scuppered after the main civilian alliance, the Forces for Freedom and Change, labelled Burhan's move a "tactical retreat" and called for "continued public pressure".

'Wolf in sheep's clothing'?

Protesters have kept up rallies demanding a restoration of the transition to civilian rule despite repeated crackdowns by the security forces, who have in recent days fired live bullets, launched barrages of tear gas canisters and deployed powerful water cannons to break up the crowds, according to medics.

Burhan's pledge Monday to step aside for a new civilian "government" with "executive" powers was accompanied by another pledge -- the establishment of a new "Supreme Council of Armed Forces". 

This body would be in charge of defence and security, he said, feeding into concerns among opponents that it would not be answerable to any government. 

Burhan said the Supreme Council would combine the regular army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a much feared and powerful unit commanded by Burhan's deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

Key FFC member and ex-rebel Yasser Arman, in a statement late Tuesday, warned that Burhan's "intention is to choose a prime minister who is a wolf in sheep's clothing and takes his orders from the military council".

Arman said that Burhan's announcement was aimed at the "regional and international community, some of whose members are looking for quick solutions" including those who he warned are "prioritising stability over democracy".

The FFC has so far refused to take part in talks with military leaders, despite pressure from international brokers that range from the United Nations to the African Union and regional bloc IGAD.

On Tuesday, following an IGAD emergency summit of East African leaders chaired by Burhan in Kenya, the bloc praised efforts to finding "lasting solutions to the political situation", adding that it "appreciated the positive steps" taken by Sudan's leaders.

Seventh day of protests

But protesters had a different opinion, holding firm on their barricades of rocks and tyres, despite heavy fatalities late last week.

Sudan has been rocked by near-weekly protests since the October coup, with thousands marching in multiple cities demanding civilian rule is returned, with rallies taking place every day since mass demonstrations last week.

On Wednesday, for a seventh straight day, crowds called on the army to relinquish power, and chanted slogans against Burhan.

Pro-democracy medics said nine demonstrators lost their lives on Thursday, the deadliest violence so far this year, bringing to 114 the number killed in the crackdown against anti-coup protesters since October.

The coup plunged Sudan further into political and economic turmoil that has sent consumer prices spiralling and resulted in life-threatening food shortages.

Burhan's announcement has been treated cautiously by international players, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres saying he hoped it would  create "the opportunity reach an agreement that ultimately leads to a civilian-led transition to democracy".

The United States said it was "too early to tell" the impact, with State Department spokesman Ned Price urging all sides to seek a solution towards "a civilian-led government" with "free and fair elections".

Protesters argue that the army chief has made such moves before.

In November, a month after the coup, Burhan signed a deal with Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister he had ousted in the power grab and put under house arrest, returning him to power.

But many people rejected that pact and took to the streets again, and Hamdok resigned in January warning that Sudan was "crossing a dangerous turning point that threatens its whole survival". 

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