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27.04.2019 Sudan

Opposition chief demands Sudan join ICC as talks held on civil rule

Abdelmoneim Abu Idris Ali
Africa Sudanese protesters gather near the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum.  By ASHRAF SHAZLY (AFP)
APR 27, 2019 SUDAN
Sudanese protesters gather near the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum. By ASHRAF SHAZLY (AFP)

A top opposition leader called Saturday for Sudan to join the International Criminal Court which has indicted its ousted president Omar al-Bashir, as a panel of protesters and the military met to discuss civilian rule.

Sadiq al-Mahdi, a former prime minister and head of the opposition National Umma Party that has backed the protests, also told reporters that the army's ouster of Bashir was "not a military coup".

His comments came as a joint committee representing the ruling military leadership and protesters held their first meeting to discuss a demand by demonstrators for a handover to civilian rule.

Rashid al-Sayed, a spokesman for the protest movement, said the meeting was a confidence-building step between both sides who are "partners in the revolution" and a second round was due later on Saturday.

He said the military council vowed at the talks that a protest camp outside army headquarters "will not be dispersed by force".

Bashir was ousted by the army on April 11 after months of protests against his three-decade rule.

Thousands of demonstrators reached the sprawling military headquarters in central Khartoum on April 6, demanding that the army support those opposing against Bashir.

Five days later, the army toppled Bashir but then took power into its own hands through a 10-member transitional military council.

The protesters, who have kept up the pressure round-the-clock outside army headquarters for weeks, are now demanding that the council step down and make way for a civilian government.

Mahdi, who said his party would not join a civilian transitional government, told reporters "it is possible to agree on a civilian authority with the military council because they did not plan a coup".

He also said Sudan should "immediately" join the Hague-based International Criminal Court where Bashir is wanted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the conflict in Darfur.

"This should be done in coordination with the transitional military council," he added.

Sudan's former premier and key opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi.  By Ebrahim Hamid (AFP) Sudan's former premier and key opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi. By Ebrahim Hamid (AFP)

Bashir, 75, has consistently denied the charges against him.

The war in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Khartoum's Arab-dominated government, accusing it of social and political marginalisation.

The United Nations says about 300,000 people have died in the conflict, with another 2.5 million displaced, many of them still living in miserable camps across the western region of the country.

Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 that toppled Mahdi's elected government.

'Regime still present'

Mahdi, who was ousted by Bashir in the 1989 coup, said Saturday that the president's regime remained in place despite the upheaval.

"The head of the regime has been ousted but the regime is still present," Mahdi said.

"The toppled regime might still try to do a coup," he said without elaborating.

Protest leaders have held several rounds of inconclusive talks with the military council since Bashir was ousted.

Earlier this week, the two sides agreed to set up the joint committee to chart the way forward.

The military council has so far refused to step down, insisting that it has assumed power for a two-year transitional period.

Western governments have expressed support, but Sudan's key Gulf Arab lenders have backed the military council, while African states have called for more time for the army to hand over to civilians.

As protesters were pushing the military on civilian rule Saturday, assailants hurled rocks at a meeting of members of the Islamist Popular Congress Party, an ally of Bashir's, injuring 32 of them.

"When the participants in the meeting took a break, they came under attack from a group of people who threw rocks," said Suheir Salah, party's deputy undersecretary.

The PCP, founded by late Islamist leader Hassan Turabi, had two ministers of state in Bashir's cabinet, including Salah, and seven lawmakers in parliament.