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Sudan's Burhan says army stepping back for civilian govt

Protesters were unmoved by the general's words and in the Bahri district of Khartoum new demonstrators came out immediately, erecting a barricade outside a hospital. ©AFP

Khartoum (AFP) - Sudan's coup leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said Monday the army would make way for a civilian government, a demand made for months by street protesters and repeatedly called for by the international community.

Burhan said the military would no longer participate in national talks facilitated by the UN and regional blocs, wanting instead "to make room for political and revolutionary forces and other national factions" to form a civilian government.

His announcement came months after the October coup ousted civilians from a transitional administration, sparking widespread international condemnation and aid cuts to the impoverished northeast African country which has seen only rare interludes of civilian rule.

Burhan's televised address came as hundreds of anti-coup demonstrators were on their fifth day of sit-in protests after last Thursday saw the deadliest violence so far this year.

Pro-democracy medics said nine demonstrators lost their lives, bringing to 114 the number killed in the crackdown against anti-coup protesters since October.

Protesters were unmoved by the general's words, and in the Burri district of Khartoum new demonstrators came out immediately.

"We don't have confidence in Burhan," said Muhannad Othman, perched on a barricade erected by the protesters."We just want him to leave once and for all."

A demonstrator in central Khartoum, Oumeima Hussein, said Burhan should be "judged for all those killed since the coup" and vowed that protesters "are going to topple him like we did to Bashir".

The army's ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir in 2019 after mass demonstrations led to a civilian-military transitional administration before the putsch.

Tens of thousands had taken to the streets again on Thursday, almost matching numbers at the peak of demonstrations after the coup.Although near-weekly rallies have continued, they appeared to decline in intensity before reigniting last week with the same demand: an end to military rule.

"The armed forces will not stand in the way" of democratic transition, Burhan said in his address, affirming the military's commitment to working towards "elections in which the Sudanese people choose who will govern them".

Ruling council dissolving

In the weeks following the coup, the military and civilian leaders had promised general elections in July 2023.

Sudan's main civilian players refused to take part in talks with military leaders launched last month under international auspices in an effort to restore the transition.

The United Nations, the African Union and regional bloc IGAD facilitated the dialogue.

But the talks were boycotted by Sudan's main civilian bloc, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), which was ousted from power in the coup, and the influential Umma party. 

Late Monday, the FFC were holding an "emergency meeting" to discuss their response to Burhan's announcements, a source within the bloc told AFP.

Also absent from the talks were members of the resistance committees -- informal groups which emerged during the 2018-2019 protests that ousted Bashir and have led calls for recent anti-coup rallies.

Burhan said that "the formation of the executive government" will be followed by "the dissolution of the Sovereign Council" –- the ruling authority formed under a fragile power-sharing agreement between the army and civilians in 2019.

Though the coup derailed the transition and severed the fragile alliance, the Sovereign Council continued to govern Sudan under Burhan's rule.

"A supreme council of armed forces" will take its place, he said, combining the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary unit commanded by Burhan's deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

The RSF incorporated members of the Janjaweed militia, which was accused by rights groups of atrocities during the conflict that erupted in 2003 in the western region of Darfur.

More recently, the RSF has been accused of taking part in crackdowns on anti-coup protesters.

The new supreme council will only be in charge of "defence and security" issues, Burhan said.

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