Sudan protesters reach full agreement with generals on civilian rule

Haitham EL-TABEI, Abdelmoneim ABU IDRIS ALI
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Thousands of jubilant Sudanese take to the streets of the capital Khartoum to celebrate the "victory" of their revolution after protest leaders reach full agreement with the ruling generals on a transition to civilian rule

Thousands of jubilant Sudanese take to the streets of the capital Khartoum to celebrate the "victory" of their revolution after protest leaders reach full agreement with the ruling generals on a transition to civilian rule (AFP Photo/Ebrahim HAMID)

Khartoum (AFP) - Protest leaders reached "full agreement" with Sudan's ruling generals Saturday on a hard-won constitutional declaration, the African Union said, paving the way for a promised transition to civilian rule.

Thousands of jubilant Sudanese took to the streets of the capital Khartoum when the deal was announced before dawn to celebrate the prospect of a civilian government.

The declaration builds on a landmark power-sharing deal signed on July 17 and provides for a joint civilian-military ruling body to oversee the formation of a transitional civilian government and parliament to govern for a three-year transition period.

The deal is the fruit of difficult negotiations between the leaders of the mass protests which erupted last December against the three-decade rule of president Omar al-Bashir and the generals who eventually ousted him in April.

"I am announcing to the Sudanese, African and international public opinion that the two delegations have fully agreed on the constitutional declaration," AU mediator Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt told reporters.

He said further meetings would be held to work out the technical details of the deal and discuss the signing ceremony.

An initial inking of the agreement is expected to take place on Sunday, protest leaders said, ahead of a formal signing in front of foreign dignitaries.

The talks between the protest movement and the generals had been repeatedly interrupted by deadly violence against demonstrators.

They were suspended for weeks after men in military uniform broke up a long-running protest camp outside army headquarters in Khartoum on June 3, killing at least 127 people according to doctors close to the protest movement.

They were briefly suspended again earlier this week when paramilitaries shot dead six demonstrators in the city of Al-Obeid, four of them schoolchildren.

On Saturday, the Arab League welcomed the agreement saying the signing of the constitutional declaration "would launch a new and important phase in line with the Sudanese people's aspirations".

- 'Revolution succeeded' -

Sudan's army ruler Abdel Fattah al-Burhan lauded the "long-awaited deal" in an interview on Saudi broadcaster Al-Hadath.

Demonstrators among the crowds that took to the streets in the early hours hailed victory in their struggle for a new Sudan.

"For us, the revolution succeeded now and our country set foot on the road towards civilian rule," said 25-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim as he joined the cavalcade of vehicles that criss-crossed the streets of Khartoum, horns blazing.

Fellow protester, Somaiya Sadeq, said she hoped there would now be justice for those who had given their lives.

"We have been waiting for a civilian state to seek fair retribution from the murderers of our sons," she told AFP.

Doctors linked to protest umbrella group the Alliance for Freedom and Change say more than 250 people have been killed in protest-related violence since December.

Protest leaders have blamed much of the violence on the feared paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces, who sprang out of the Janjaweed militia notorious for alleged war crimes during the conflict in Darfur.

The military announced on Friday that nine of them had been dismissed and arrested on suspicion of involvement in this week's fatal shootings in Al-Obeid.

Protest leaders said they had won the military's agreement that the RSF irregulars would be integrated in the army chain of command.

"The paramilitary RSF will report to the head of the armed forces," said protest leader Monzer Abu al-Maali.

Many Sudanese expressed relief that an end was finally in sight to the seven and a half months of protests and political unrest that have gripped the increasingly impoverished country.

"We cannot keep protesting indefinitely. It was important to reach a middle ground between all factions," said Gomaa Hussein, 45.

- 'Blood of the martyrs' -

Others criticised the protest movement's negotiators for the compromises they had made in their quest for a deal, particularly over accountability for the killing of demonstrators.

"It is good that we reached an agreement but it is unacceptable to forget the blood of the martyrs," said 22-year old Mohamed Yasine.

"It's the martyrs who drove us to this defining moment."

But protest leader Madani Abbas Madani vowed that there would be no impunity.

"The constitutional declaration provides for the formation of an independent investigation committee to look into the violations," he said.

"The blood of the martyrs will not be compromised."

The protest movement's legal affairs negotiator Ibtisam al-Sanhouri said the consitutional declaration sets the stage for a parliamentary system with a civilian prime minister.

The premier will be nominated by the protest movement and confirmed by the new sovereign council, which will have a civilian majority, Sanhouri said.

The protest movement will be allocated 201 of the 300 seats in the new parliament, she added.