Sudanese demonstrators ride on a train from Atbara, the birthplace of an uprising that toppled Sudanese former President Omar al-Bashir, as they approach the military headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah Image Credit: REUTERS

Khartoum: Protest leaders in Sudan threatened Wednesday to launch a “general strike” unless the country’s military rulers meet their demand to hand power to a civilian administration.

Responding to a journalist’s question on what steps demonstrators would take if the ruling military council fails to cede power, protest leader Siddiq Farouk threatened “escalatory measures”.

“We will launch a million-strong march, and we are preparing for a general strike,” he said.

Protesters on a train from Atbara, the birthplace of an uprising that toppled Sudan's former President Omar al-Bashir, shout slogans as they approach to a train station as part of a symbolic gesture of support for demonstrators camped at a sit-in outside the defence ministry compound, in Khartoum, Sudan, April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas Image Credit: REUTERS

Meanwhile on Tuesday, hundreds of protesters arrived on a packed train in Khartoum Tuesday to join a weeks-long sit-in outside army headquarters, as a top US official reiterated Washington’s backing for demands the country’s military council hand power to a civilian government.

But African leaders meeting in Cairo insisted on “the need for more time” for a transition, urging the African Union to extend by three months its end of April deadline for the council to hand power to civilians or face suspension from the bloc, Egypt’s presidency said.

Sudanese protestors vowed to continue their struggle for a civilian government to take over from the military council set up after the army ousted longtime president Omar Al Bashir on April 11 after months of mass protests.

The demonstrations first broke out in December in the central Sudanese town of Atbara.

Packed train

On Tuesday a train from the same town, overflowing with flag-waving demonstrators, chugged through north Khartoum’s Bahari railway station before winding its way to the protest site, an AFP photographer said.

Protesters perched on the roof of the train, chanting “freedom, peace, justice” as crowds of supporters, who had waited for hours, greeted them as the procession came to a stop outside the army headquarters in central Khartoum.

Calling for retribution for those killed during Al Bashir’s rule, protesters chanted “blood for blood, we will not accept compensations”.

The protests that broke out in Atbara swiftly mushroomed into nationwide demonstrations against Al Bashir’s iron-fisted rule, finally leading to his ouster on April 11 by the army.

Under Al Bashir, officials say at least 65 people were killed in protest-related violence since December.

But initial jubilation at the end of Bashir’s three-decade reign quickly turned to anger over the military council’s plan to keep power for a two-year transition period.

World powers have urged the council to cede power to a civilian adminstration.

Sudanese demonstrators ride atop a train from Atbara, the birthplace of an uprising that toppled Sudanese former President Omar al-Bashir, as they approach the military headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah Image Credit: REUTERS

“We support the legitimate demand of the people of Sudan for a civilian-led government and we are here to urge and to encourage parties to work together to advance that agenda as soon as possible,” top State Department official Makila James told AFP on Tuesday.

“The people of Sudan have made their demand very clear,” she said.

“We want to support them in that as the best path forward to a society that is respectful of human rights, that respects the rule of law and that would be able to address this country’s very serious issues.”

During her ongoing trip, James met the country’s military council chief Lieutenant General Abdul Fattah Al Burhan and several other officials.

The military council has ordered protesters remove barricades placed on the roads leading to the protest site.

In an interview with the BBC broadcast on Tuesday, Al Burhan said force would not be used against the protesters.

“We do not pose any threat against them,” he said.”We just want food and petroleum supplies to flow and the movement to become normal.”

But protesters vowed to stand their ground at the barricades. Protest leaders from the Alliance of Freedom and Change have suspended talks with the military council, accusing it on Sunday of being part of the regime put in place by Al Bashir.

Late Monday the military council tried to ease the tensions, saying the demands made by the Alliance for Freedom and Change, the umbrella group leading the protest movement, were being examined.

“The alliance has presented its proposal ... which is now being studied along with the visions of other political forces,” council spokesman Shamseddine Kabbashi told reporters.

He said the council “will communicate with everyone to reach a middle ground”.

But groups of journalists, doctors, engineers and veterinarians also marched Tuesday in Khartoum to keep up the pressure for a transfer of power to civilian rule.

Hundreds of protesters joined a sit-in outside an army building in the eastern border town of Kassala, demanding that those responsible for killing protesters be brought to justice.