World

Sudan’s military and protest leaders announce 3-year transition deal

Sudanese protesters celebrated after an agreement was reached with the military council to form a three-year transition period for transferring power to democratic rule, in Khartoum, early on May 15, 2019.
Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images
Sudanese protesters celebrated after an agreement was reached with the military council to form a three-year transition period for transferring power to democratic rule, in Khartoum, early on May 15, 2019.

CAIRO — Sudan’s military and civilian protest leaders said Wednesday that they had agreed on a three-year transition to democratic rule, raising hopes for a resolution to the political crisis that has enveloped the country since last month’s ouster of President Omar al-Bashir.

At a joint news conference in the early hours of Wednesday, representatives from the ruling Transitional Military Council and an alliance of protest groups said they expected to sign a final deal within 24 hours.

But key details are still unclear, including the composition of the ruling body that will wield ultimate power until elections are held, and who will lead the country during the years-long transitional period.

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An initial air of cautious optimism on the streets of the capital, Khartoum, gave way to violence by Wednesday afternoon when members of the security forces opened fire on protesters in the city center, according to a witness. Video showed protesters running, rebuilding barricades, and rushing the wounded to the hospital.

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At least eight people were wounded, protest leaders said. It was the second round of bloodshed in Khartoum since Monday, and a mark of the fragile security situation.

The military is not the only armed group at large in the capital. The Rapid Support Forces, a powerful paramilitary group, is also prominent on the streets. Protesters said it was that group that started firing on demonstrators Wednesday.

Thousands of protesters have been camped at the gates of the military headquarters since Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years and became one of Africa’s most enduring dictators, was toppled April 11. Those protesters have demanded an immediate transition to civilian rule.

The largely peaceful atmosphere was shattered Monday evening when members of the security forces fired tear gas and live rounds in an apparent attempt to disperse protesters from checkpoints around the protest sites. At least four people were killed and dozens more injured.

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Despite initial confusion about the identity of the gunmen — both sides blamed security factions still loyal to al-Bashir — the United States squarely blamed the military Tuesday.

The deaths were “clearly the result of the Transitional Military Council trying to impose its will on the protesters by attempting to remove roadblocks,” the US embassy said in a statement on its Facebook page.

“The decision for security forces to escalate the use of force, including the unnecessary use of tear gas, led directly to the unacceptable violence later in the day that the TMC was unable to control,” it said.

The violence suggested perilous divisions in the ranks of Sudan’s security forces, which devolved into a fractious mix of regular and paramilitary forces under Bashir, and it appeared to give fresh momentum to the power-sharing talks that culminated in the news conference early Wednesday.

The three-year transition period is a compromise between the military’s demand for a two-year period and protesters who wanted four years.