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Sudan protesters demand 'immediate' civilian rule

Thousands remain encamped outside Khartoum's army headquarters to keep up pressure on military council that took power after ousting Bashir on Thursday
Sudanese demonstrators remain gathered near military headquarters in capital Khartoum on Sunday (AFP)

Sudanese protesters on Sunday demanded the country's military rulers "immediately" hand power over to a civilian government that should then bring ousted leader Omar al-Bashir to justice.

Thousands remained encamped outside Khartoum's army headquarters to keep up pressure on a military council that took power after ousting Bashir on Thursday, AFP said.

The organisation that spearheaded the protests against Bashir, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), called on the council "to immediately transfer power to a civilian government".

SPA also demanded that the next "transitional government and the armed forces bring Bashir and all the chiefs of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS)... to justice".

Protest leaders say their demands include restructuring the country's feared NISS, whose chief Salah Ghosh resigned on Saturday, Reuters said.

Last month, Middle East Eye revealed that Gosh had held secret talks with the head of Israel's Mossad in Germany in February as part of a plot hatched by Israel's Gulf allies to elevate him to the presidency if Bashir was toppled from power.

SPA, which had demanded civilians be included on the transitional military council and for Bashir's close associates to leave, called for the arrest of prominent NISS generals, including former head Ghosh, and for the removal of the prosecutor general.

"The Sudanese Professionals Association calls on its supporters to continue with the sit-in until the revolution achieves its demands," it added.

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As many as 4,000 people were still camped out on Sunday, a Reuters witness said, slightly fewer than on previous days, with some people returning to work for the first time in days.

After deadly clashes at the sit-in last week, the atmosphere was relaxed, with soldiers drinking tea and chatting with protesters.

"We are at our sit-in until we hear the response from the army to the demands. We will defend the revolution from hijacking," said Mouawiya Mubarak, a 21-year-old student.

"Our demands are clear and have not yet been achieved, why would we go home? Our sit-in is the most powerful weapon in our hands," SPA said in a tweet.

The military council later held a news conference at which its spokesman did not respond to the protesters' latest demands. Instead, it announced the appointment of a new intelligence chief.

Earlier, the military council met with political parties and urged them to agree on an "independent figure" to be prime minister, an AFP correspondent present at the meeting said.

"We want to set up a civilian state based on freedom, justice and democracy," a council member, Lieutenant General Yasser al-Ata, told several political parties, urging them to agree on the figures to sit in civilian government.

The protesters have insisted civilian representatives must join the military council.

A 10-member delegation representing the protesters delivered their demands during talks with the council late Saturday, according to a statement by the Alliance for Freedom and Change umbrella group spearheading the rallies.

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The foreign ministry urged the international community to back the military council "to achieve the Sudanese goal of democratic transition".

It said council chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan was "committed to having a complete civilian government and the role of the council will be to maintain the sovereignty of the country".

Talks between protest leaders and Sudan's new rulers were followed on Sunday by a meeting between Washington's top envoy to Khartoum, Steven Koutsis, and the military council's deputy.

Mohammad Hamdan Daglo, widely known as Himeidti, told Koutsis "about the measures taken by the military council to preserve the security and stability of the country," the official SUNA news agency reported.

Himeidti is a field commander for the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) counter-insurgency unit, which rights groups have accused of abuses in the war-torn Darfur region.

"Himeidti was part of the crimes that happened previously, but at least now he is on the side of the people," said Mohamed, a protester outside the army headquarters who gave only his first name for security reasons.

The United States, Britain and Norway said on Sunday it was time for Sudan's military rulers and other parties to hold talks over the country's transition to civilian rule.

"This must be done credibly and swiftly, with protest leaders, political opposition, civil society organisations, and all relevant elements of society, including women," the embassies of the three countries said in a statement.

Caution reigns

Still, protesters remained cautious.

On Sunday night, the council announced the appointment of Lieutenant General Abu Baker Mustafa as the new head of NISS in a televised statement in which it also revealed the sacking of Khartoum's envoy to Washington, Mohamed Atta.

Key regional power brokers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have voiced support for the transitional council.

Burhan's nomination "reflects the ambitions of the brotherly people of Sudan for security, stability and development", UAE state news agency WAM said.

Saudi Arabia has promised an aid package, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

Sudan is part of a UAE and Saudi-led military coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.