c.2019 New York Times News Service
CAIRO — Sudan’s military and civilian protest leaders said Wednesday that they had agreed on a three-year transition to democratic rule, raising hopes for a resolution to the political crisis that has enveloped the country since last month’s ouster of President Omar al-Bashir.
At a joint news conference in the early hours of Wednesday, representatives from the ruling Transitional Military Council and an alliance of protest groups said they expected to sign a final deal within 24 hours.
But key details are still unclear, including the composition of the ruling body that will wield ultimate power until elections are held, and who will lead the country during the yearslong transitional period.
Even so, the announcement was received on the streets of the capital, Khartoum, as a major breakthrough, after weeks of tense power-sharing talks and some bloodshed.
Thousands of protesters have camped at the gates of the military headquarters since al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years and became one of Africa’s most enduring dictators, was toppled April 11. Those protesters have demanded an immediate transition to civilian rule.
The largely peaceful atmosphere was shattered Monday evening when members of the security forces fired tear gas and live rounds in an apparent attempt to disperse protesters from checkpoints around the protest sites. At least four people were killed and dozens more injured.
Despite initial confusion about the identity of the gunmen — both sides blamed security factions still loyal to al-Bashir — the United States squarely blamed the military Tuesday.
The deaths were “clearly the result of the Transitional Military Council trying to impose its will on the protesters by attempting to remove roadblocks,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement on its Facebook page.
“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,” it said.
The violence suggested perilous divisions in the ranks of Sudan’s security forces, which devolved into a fractious mix of regular and paramilitary forces under al-Bashir, and it appeared to give fresh momentum to the power-sharing talks that culminated in the news conference early Wednesday.
A military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Yasser al-Atta, said that alliance of protest groups would control two-thirds of the seats on a 300-seat transitional legislative council. Other opposition parties would hold the rest.
He said the two sides would spend the first six months of the transition period negotiating peace agreements with rebel groups from Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, who have been fighting the central government for years.
The three-year transition period is a compromise between the military’s demand for a two-year period and protesters who wanted four years.
But throughout the talks a key sticking point has been the composition of the sovereign council that would sit over a technocratic, civilian-dominated government. The generals who seized power from al-Bashir said they should be in charge and have appeared to enjoy the backing of powerful regional players including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Distrustful protesters, who say they have learned the lesson of recent failed revolutions in countries like Egypt, insist they should hold power during the transition.
On Wednesday both sides indicated they were close to a finalized deal.
“Viewpoints are close and, God willing, we will reach an agreement soon,” the protest leader Satea al-Hajj, who appeared alongside al-Atta, told reporters.
Al-Atta echoed that view.
“We vow to our people that the agreement will be completed fully within 24 hours in a way that it meets the people’s aspirations,” he said.
Still, the uncertainty triggered by Monday’s sudden burst of violence suggested that Sudan’s fragile transition was still at risk from armed elements inside the country’s fractured security forces.