Sudan's army rulers and protest leaders resumed talks Sunday to finalise a new governing body that would replace the generals who took power after ousting longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir on the back of a popular uprising.
The resumption of talks comes following pressure from world powers to reach an agreement over an interim government that would be civilian-led -- a key demand of demonstrators.
"The talks between the Transitional Military Council and the Alliance for Freedom and Change have started," a statement by the military council said, in reference to the umbrella protest movement.
The generals and protest leaders have been at loggerheads on the thorniest issue -- the makeup of the new governing body that would rule Sudan for a three year transitional period after the ouster last month of Bashir.
The agreement had been expected on Wednesday, but the military council suspended the negotiations for 72 hours.
Ahead of Sunday's talks the protest movement raised the ante by insisting that the ruling body should be headed by a civilian.
The Alliance for Freedom and Change said it is determined that the country's new ruling body be "led by a civilian as its chairman and with a limited military representation".
The existing military council is headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the generals insist that the overall new body be military-led while the protest leaders demand a majority civilian body.
On the eve of the talks, hundreds of supporters of Islamic movements rallied outside the presidential palace in Khartoum warning they would reject any deal that would exclude the Islamic law sharia in the country's political roadmap.
"The main reason for the mobilisation is that the alliance (the main protesters' umbrella group) is ignoring the application of sharia in its deal," said Al-Tayieb Mustafa, who heads a coalition of about 20 Islamic groups.
"This is irresponsible and if that deal is done, it is going to open the door of hell for Sudan," he told AFP.
Bashir came to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 and Sudanese legislation has since been underpinned by Islamic law.
At Saturday's rally, hardline cleric Mohamed Ali Jazuli had a warning for the military council.
"If you consider handing over power to a certain faction, then we will consider it a coup", he vowed as supporters chanted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest).
The protest leaders have so far remained silent on whether sharia has a place in Sudan's future, arguing that their main concern is installing a civilian administration.
Saudi Arabia meanwhile deposited $250 million in Sudan's central bank as part of an aid package it announced following Bashir's ouster.
"The ministry of finance has deposited 937.5 million Saudi riyals into the central bank of Sudan," it said in a statement Sunday.
In April, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced three billion dollars (2.7 billion euros) in financial aid for Sudan.
The UAE said on April 28 it was depositing $250 million in Sudan's central bank.
Violence marred talks
The oil-rich Gulf states pledged to inject $500 million into Sudan's central bank and $2.5 billion to help provide food, medicine and petroleum products, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said last month.
It was Sudan's worsening economic crisis that triggered nationwide protests against Bashir.
Before talks were suspended earlier this week, the generals and protest leaders had agreed on several key issues, including a three-year transition period and the creation of a 300-member parliament, with two thirds of lawmakers to come from the protesters' umbrella group.
But those talks were marred by violence after five protesters and an army major were shot dead near the ongoing sit-in outside the military headquarters in central Khartoum, where thousands have camped out for weeks.
Initially, the protesters gathered to demand Bashir resign -- but they have stayed put, to pressure the generals into stepping aside.
The protesters had also erected roadblocks on some avenues in Khartoum to put further pressure on the generals during negotiations, but the military rulers demanded that they be removed.
Protesters duly took the roadblocks down in recent days -- but they said they will put them back up, if the army fails to transfer power to a civilian administration.
The generals have allowed protesters to maintain their sit-in outside army headquarters.