By Fay Abuelgasim and Samy Magdy / Associated Press
KHARTOUM, Sudan — Tens of thousands of Sudanese flooded the streets of the capital of Khartoum and other cities Saturday to mark the 40th day since the deadly dispersal of a protest sit-in, and a protest leader said a planned a meeting with the country’s ruling generals to sign a power-sharing deal was postponed until Sunday.
The “Justice First” marches were called by the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which has been spearheading the protests since December. Those demonstrations led to the military ouster of autocratic president Omar al-Bashir in April.
The marches mark 40 days since the dispersal of the pro-democracy protesters’ sit-in in outside military headquarters in Khartoum on June 3. Protest organizers say security forces killed at least 128 people during the dispersal and subsequent crackdown. Authorities, however, put the death toll at 61, including three security force members.
Protesters have called for a “transparent and fair” investigation into the deaths. “The military council should be held accountable (for) the massacre,” said protester Samer Hussein.
Footage and photos posted by the SPA showed thousands of people demonstrating in the capital and its sister city of Omdurman. There were protests in other places, including the Red Sea city of Port Sudan and the eastern province of Kassala.
Protesters were seen waving Sudanese flags and posters that read: “Freedom, Peace and Justice” and “Civilian (authority) is the people’s choice.”
The marches came just over a week after massive demonstrations on June 30, when tens of thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets in the biggest show of numbers in the uprising. At least 11 people were killed in clashes with security forces, according to protest organizers.
Saturday’s marches also put pressure on the ruling military council as it and the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, which represents the protesters, planned to meet to sign a power-sharing agreement. African Union envoy Mohammed el-Hassan Labat originally said a meeting would take place Saturday night. But Ahmed Rabei, a spokesman for the SPA, said later the protest movement called for the talks to be postponed until Sunday “for more consultations” within the FDFC on the deal.
The state-run SUNA news agency however reported that both sides would meet late Saturday. SUNA quoted a statement by the military council as saying that they would discuss the “constitutional document” with the FDFC in their meeting in a luxury Khartoum hotel.
Labat, the AU envoy, and Mahmoud Dirir, Ethiopia’s envoy, met with the military council. Then Labat told reporters the meeting was postponed to Sunday.
The signing ceremony was expected to take place earlier this week, but several delays have been announced, raising suspicions the two parties might still be divided over the agreement’s details.
Late on Saturday, the Sudanese Communist party, which is part of the protest movement, said it rejected the power-sharing agreement because it does not include an international investigation into the crackdown and it keeps paramilitary forces in existence.
The party said it would not take part in the sovereign council, the cabinet or the legislative body which would rule Sudan during the transition.
The deal includes a joint Sovereign Council set to rule for a little over three years while elections are organized, along with a constitutional declaration, according to a copy of the deal obtained by The Associated Press. A military leader is to head the 11-member council for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for the next 18.
The deal, which also includes an FDFC-appointed cabinet, was meant to end a weekslong political deadlock between the military and protesters since the Khartoum sit-in site was cleared.
They also agreed on an independent Sudanese investigation into the deadly crackdown by security forces on the protests last month, though it’s unclear if anyone will be held accountable.
Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, deputy head of the military council, told a gathering of military supporters in the Nile River province, about 62 miles north of Khartoum, that his forces, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, “are not angels and we will try all offenders.”
The RSF grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias used by al-Bashir in the Darfur conflict in the early 2000s. Protesters accuse it of leading the nationwide crackdown and the SPA has called for the force to be disbanded.
Dagalo accused “intelligence agencies” of defaming the RSF. He did not elaborate.