Sudan talks to resume as 'dispute' over top job persists

Khartoum (AFP) –


Sudan's army rulers and protesters resume talks Monday to finalise the makeup of a new ruling body after overnight negotiations remained deadlocked following a "dispute" over who should lead it.

The two sides launched a round of new talks Sunday evening over the form of the authority to rule Sudan for a three-year transitional period following last month's ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

The military council that replaced him has faced international pressure to install a civilian-led administration -- a key demand of thousands of demonstrators who have spent weeks camped outside Khartoum's army headquarters.

Hours of overnight meetings into the early hours of Monday ended without agreement, but the ruling military council announced the talks would resume again Monday evening at 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) at the presidential palace.

A prominent leader of an umbrella protest group who was at the talks said the question of who would head the body had been a key sticking point.

"The dispute over the presidency of the sovereign council" was ongoing, said Satea al-Haj of the Alliance for Freedom and Change, which led the nationwide campaign against Bashir.

"The military council is still insisting that the president of the sovereign council should be from the military," he said.

"They are justifying it by saying the country faces security threats."

The protest movement insists that civilians must form the majority of the body's members, a demand backed by major world powers, Haj added.

"The international community and the African Union will not accept to deal with a military government," he said.

"The people also want a civilian government."

- 'Dirty political game' -

However, the protest leader said Sunday night's talks were generally "positive". The military council has said a "final deal" is expected during Monday's negotiations.

Generals and protest leaders have already agreed on key issues including a three-year transition period and the creation of a 300-member parliament dominated by lawmakers from the protesters' umbrella group.

The new council is expected to form a transitional civilian government ahead of the first post-Bashir elections after the transition period.

But observers say the body may turn out to be only symbolic, with real power resting in the office of prime minister and the cabinet.

An agreement on the body's makeup had been expected on Wednesday.

But the generals suspended the negotiations for 72 hours, demanding that protesters remove roadblocks they had erected on several Khartoum avenues before any negotiation could proceed.

Protesters duly tore down the barricades, but have warned that they will build them again unless the generals transfer power to civilians.

Demonstrator Abdelmoneim Seer vowed to continue protesting if the generals stay in power.

"If the military council does not meet all our demands at the next negotiation session... we will continue our sit-ins everywhere" across the country, he said.

The generals have allowed protesters to continue with their sit-in at the army complex.

Demonstrators began their sit-in against Bashir on April 6. But they after refused to move after his ouster by the military, vowing to stay there until a civilian government was installed.

Protesters accuse the generals of clinging to power and ignoring their demands.

"A dirty political game is being played by the military council," said Mustafa Sadiq, who spent the night at the army complex.

The protesters' umbrella group on Monday urged demonstrators to be patient.

"Victory is just a matter of patience and it is getting close," the Alliance for Freedom and Change said.