By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM - Thousands of Sudanese demonstrators camped outside the defense ministry in Khartoum to push for a civilian government, defying a curfew and calling for mass prayers after the military overthrew Omar al-Bashir after 30 years of autocratic rule.
Demonstrators who have been holding almost daily anti-Bashir protests rejected the decision to set up a transitional military council to run the country for two years and vowed to continue protests until a civilian government is established.
Activists called for mass Friday prayers outside the defense ministry compound, a focal point for protests.
At the compound, large tents were put up and people brought in food and handed out water as the crowd swelled, a Reuters witness said. Ahmed al-Sadek, a 39-year-old trader, said he had not slept at his home since the sit-in began on Saturday.
Activists wearing yellow vests controlled traffic around the compound on Friday morning and managed foot traffic to and from the sit-in, a Reuters witness said. They also blocked a major bridge in central Khartoum.
Bashir, 75, had faced 16 weeks of demonstrations against him. Announcing the president’s overthrow, Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf said elections would be held at the end of the two-year interim period.
World powers, including the United States and Britain, said they supported a peaceful and democratic transition sooner than two years.
Auf is included on Washington’s list of Specially Designated Nationals for his role during the Darfur conflict, meaning all his assets in the U.S. were frozen and Americans were banned from doing business with him, the U.S. embassy said.
Speaking on state television on Thursday, Ibn Auf said Bashir was being detained in a “safe place” and a military council - which it was later announced he is heading - would now run the country.
Sudanese sources told Reuters that Bashir was at the presidential residence under “heavy guard”.
The military council set up a political committee that will meet political parties and foreign diplomats during the course of Friday, state media reported. The military council was also due to give a news conference on Friday.
Ibn Auf also announced a state of emergency, a nationwide ceasefire and the suspension of the constitution. He also said there would be a curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
The main organizer of protests against Bashir, the Sudanese Professionals Association, rejected Ibn Auf’s plans. It called on protesters to maintain their sit-in outside the defense ministry.
In a challenge to the military council, several thousand protesters remained in front of the defense ministry compound, and in other parts of the capital, as the curfew went into effect.
They chanted “They removed a thief and brought a thief!” and “Revolution! Revolution!”
Some shops in Omdurman, across the River Nile from central Khartoum, remained open past 10 p.m., a Reuters witness said.
Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague and is facing an arrest warrant over allegations of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to the death of an estimated 300,000 people. He denies the allegations.
Bashir’s downfall was the second time this month that a leader in the region has been forced out after mass demonstrations. Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999, stepped down on April 2 after six weeks of protests.
Demanding civilian government, thousands defy military curfew in Sudan
By Khalid Abdelaziz