190705 Sudan
A Sudanese man flashes the victory gesture as people gather outside al-Huda prison in the capital Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman on July 4, 2019, during a ceremony marking the release of 235 members of a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, which has fought government forces in war-torn Darfur. Image Credit: AFP

Khartoum: Sudan’s ruling generals and protest leaders began a second day of talks Thursday on the unresolved issue of forming a new governing body, in negotiations held after weeks of standoff following a deadly crackdown on protesters.

Sudan has been rocked by a political crisis since the army ousted longtime ruler Omar Al Bashir in April on the back of widespread protests, with the ruling generals resisting demonstrators’ demands to hand power to a civilian administration.

The generals had previously agreed over a broad civilian structure, but talks between the two sides collapsed in May following a disagreement over who should lead an overall new governing body — a civilian or a soldier.

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Tensions further surged between the generals and protest leaders after a deadly pre-dawn raid on a longstanding protest camp in Khartoum on June 3 killed dozens of demonstrators and wounded hundreds.

Talks finally resumed Wednesday after intense mediation by Ethiopian and African Union envoys, who have put forward a draft proposal to break the deadlock.

On the first day of talks, the two sides did not discuss the crucial issue of the governing body, but decided on the release of 235 fighters from a faction of a rebel group in war-torn Darfur, mediators said.

‘Sole point of disagreement’

The two sides met again on Thursday evening for a second day of negotiation at the luxury hotel in the capital where representatives of both sides have been meeting.

Three generals from the ruling military council, including the deputy chief Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo, attended Thursday’s talks with six protest leaders.

Protest leader Ahmad Al Rabie said earlier that Thursday’s talks focussed on who should lead the new governing body.

“We believe that symbolically the head of the state must be a civilian,” while the generals want a military man in charge Rabie said.

For weeks this issue has rocked Sudan, extending the political crisis triggered since the fall of Al Bashir.

The joint Ethiopian and African Union blueprint calls for a civilian-majority ruling body.

Under a transitional plan, seen by AFP, such a council would be made up of eight civilians and seven members of the military

According to Ethiopian mediator Mahmoud Drir the thorny issue of the new governing body is now “the sole point of disagreement” between the two parties.

A group of 235 fighters from a faction of a Darfur rebel group that is part of the protest movement were released on Thursday as decided on the first day of talks.

“Today we are really very excited... we were in hell under the former regime of the National Congress Party... today we are free from marginalisation,” rebel Ahmad Hussain told AFP after he was freed, referring to Al Bashir’s now defunct party.

Scores killed

The conflict in Darfur had erupted in 2003 after ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Al Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, accusing it of economic and politically marginalising the region.

Protest leaders meanwhile have exerted pressure on the generals since the June 3 raid on the mass sit-in outside army headquarters.

The raid was carried out by men in military fatigues.

The ruling military council insists it did not order the violent dispersal of the sit-in.

At least 136 people have been killed across the country since the raid, including more than 100 on June 3, according to doctors close to the umbrella protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change.

The health ministry says 78 people have been killed nationwide over the same period.

Students march for civilian rule

On Sunday, protest leaders managed to mobilise tens of thousands of supporters in the first mass protest against the generals since the raid.

The mass rally had been seen as a test for the protest leaders’ ability to mobilise crowds after the generals imposed a widespread internet blackout and deployed security forces in the capital’s key squares and districts, its twin city Omdurman and other towns and villages.

On Thursday hundreds of students from several schools in three towns — Madani, Gadaref and Sinnar — staged spontaneous protests chanting “civilian rule, civilian rule”, witnesses said.

The students also chanting “blood for blood, we don’t want compensation,” a catchcry of the protest movement calling for those guilty of killing demonstrators to face justice.

Protest leaders have further upped the pressure on the generals by calling for a similar mass protest on July 13, to be followed by a nationwide civil disobedience campaign a day later.

The campaign, if observed, would be the second such agitation since the June 3 raid.

The first, held between June 9 and 11, paralysed the country, hitting an already dilapidated economy hard.