Khartoum, Sudan | AFP | Thousands of Sudanese protesters performed the weekly Muslim prayers outside army headquarters on Friday, a day after a 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 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 displaced by the Bashir regime’s brutal response to an ethnic minority revolt 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!”
At a separate Friday prayer gathering in a mosque in south Khartoum, a prominent hardline imam, Abdelhai Yousef, called for a rally on Monday to protect the Islamic sharia law.
“They want to write a secular constitution, but we will protect sharia,” he said.
“We will gather on Monday to tell them that sharia is a red line.”
On Friday, hundreds of protesters also arrived from the states of Sennar and North Kordofan to join the sit-in, witnesses said.
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.
– Joint committee within days –
Rashid al-Sayed, a spokesman for the protest movement, told journalists on Friday that a four-year transitional period was required to ensure a “recovery programme” to pull Sudan out of crisis.
He said protest leaders were in the process of choosing members for the planned joint committee with the military council.
Sayed said the members of the committee will be announced within “days”.
The military council in a statement said it was in “continuous communication” with the protest movement and that it was waiting for it to nominate members for the joint committee.
The protests in Sudan first erupted in December after Bashir’s government tripled the price of bread, unleashing years of pent-up anger over worsening economic conditions.
When asked by AFP about the economic impact of the continuing sit-in, protest leader Mohamed Naji al-Assam acknowledged that the economy was “deteriorating by the day”.
“But then the main reason that triggered the protests was the economic crisis,” he said.