Sudanese military forced to abandon attempt to clear protesters 

Sudanese demonstrators were on Monday night defying the country’s military rulers by refusing to abandon a sit-in protest in front of army headquarters and continuing their demands for a transition to civilian government. 

Around 5,000 people were gathered in front of the defence ministry in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, where crowds have been camping out since April 6 despite the military’s call for them to disperse. 

Sudanese troops surrounded the protests on three sides and tried to tear down some of the demonstrator’s barricades but then backed away as the crowds stood their ground. 

The Sudanese Professionals Association, one of the main protest groups, called for demonstrators to flock to the area and keep standing firm against any military attempt to disperse the crowds. 

“We hope that everyone will head immediately to the areas of the sit-in to protect your revolution and your accomplishments,” the group said. 

Months of protest led to last week’s overthrow of Omar al-Bashir, the authoritarian Sudanese president who had ruled over the country for 30 years. 

But the fate of the revolution remains in the balance as protesters are now facing off against the military council that replaced Mr Bashir. 

In the days since Mr Bashir was ousted last Thursday, the protesters have forced the resignation of the the military council’s leader and the head of the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).  

The UK, US and the African Union have also endorsed the protesters’ demands for a swift transition from military rule to civilian government. 

Irfan Siddiq, the UK ambassador to Sudan, met with the military council on Monday and urged them not to use force against the protesters gathered outside the defence ministry. 

“Top request was no violence and no attempt to forcibly break the sit in,” Mr Siddiq said on Twitter. “Next request was swift formation of a civilian transitional government through a transparent, credible and inclusive process.”

 

He also called for the military to be transparent about the fate of Mr Bashir and his senior aides, who were arrested by the military last week and have not been seen since. 

The standoff in front of the defence ministry has ominous echoes of the situation in Egypt in 2013, when the military toppled the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood government and then violently dispersed Islamist protesters who took to the streets against the coup. 

Around 1,000 people were killed by Egyptian troops in what would later become known as the Rabaa massacre.  

The Sudanese military has so far been more restrained. Protesters chanted “freedom, freedom” and “revolution, revolution” while appealing to the soldiers to keep them safe. 

Dozens of protesters have been killed in recent weeks but there were no reports of deaths or injuries as the military surrounded the demonstrators on Monday. 

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The military council meanwhile announced it was overhauling the army leadership. General Hashem Babakr will take over as the army chief of staff, the council said, replacing another general with close ties to Mr Bashir. 

The military council is being led by General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, a senior officer who was close to the previous regime but has struck a conciliatory note towards the protesters since taking over the council’s leadership. 

Gen Burhan said in a television address over the weekend that he wanted to work with the protesters to “restore normal life”. However, many in the sit-in remain deeply sceptical that the military will willingly hand over power to a civilian government.   

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