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Sudan Talks Collapse Amid Clashes in Khartoum

Thursday May 16, 2019

Power-sharing talks in Sudan between the ruling military junta and the leaders of a powerful protest movement collapsed on Wednesday after violent clashes erupted in the capital, Khartoum, for the second time this week.

The leader of the ruling Military Transitional Council, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said in a televised address that the talks, which only hours earlier appeared to be going well, would be suspended for 72 hours. He laid down several conditions for a resumption of negotiations.

The announcement came hours after security officials opened fire on protesters, apparently in an attempt to clear checkpoints from the city center, wounding at least nine people and leading to recriminations on both sides.

The events marked another turbulent day in the political crisis that has enveloped Sudan since last month’s ouster of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Early Wednesday morning, military and civilian leaders had held a joint news conference to announce an apparent breakthrough: After weeks of tense talks, they had agreed on a three-year transition to democratic rule. Sitting together, representatives from both sides said they expected to sign a final deal within 24 hours.

But they admitted that an important point remained unresolved: the composition of the ruling body that will wield ultimate power until elections are held.

Thousands of protesters demanding an immediate transition to civilian rule have been camped at the gates of the military headquarters since Mr. al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years, was toppled on April 11.

The first violence occurred on Monday when members of the security forces fired tear gas and live rounds at protesters, killing at least four people and wounding dozens. The United States squarely blamed the military for the violence.

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 United States 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 T.M.C. 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 Mr. al-Bashir, and it appeared to give fresh momentum to the power-sharing talks that culminated in the news conference early Wednesday.

A military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Yasser al-Atta, said that the alliance of protest groups would control two-thirds of the seats on a 300-seat transitional legislative council. Other opposition parties would hold the rest.

He said the two sides would spend the first six months of the transition period negotiating peace agreements with rebel groups from Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, who have been fighting the central government for years.

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

But throughout the talks a key sticking point has been the composition of the sovereign council that would sit over a technocratic, civilian-dominated government. The generals who seized power from Mr. al-Bashir said they should be in charge, and have appeared to enjoy the backing of powerful regional players including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Distrustful protesters, who say they have learned the lesson of recent failed revolutions in countries like Egypt, insist they should hold power during the transition.

Early Wednesday both sides indicated that they were close to a finalized deal. “Viewpoints are close and, God willing, we will reach an agreement soon,” the protest leader Satea al-Hajj, who appeared alongside General al-Atta, told reporters.

General al-Atta echoed that view, vowing to reach an agreement that “meets the people’s aspirations.”

Still, the uncertainty set off by this week’s violence suggested that Sudan’s fragile transition was still at risk from armed elements inside the country’s fractured security forces.


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