New delay to signing of deal to restore the military to civilian transition prompted fresh protests.
Pro-democracy activists in Sudan have marched against the army and paramilitaries as the civilian opposition marked a key anniversary in the decades-old struggle against military rule with new protests.
April 6 is a symbolic date for Sudan’s civilian opposition. It marks the anniversary of uprisings in 1985 and 2019 that ended up ousting two leaders who had seized power in coups.
In central Khartoum on Thursday, protesters could be heard chanting “no militia can rule a country”.
Huge crowds blocked main roads and marched in several other cities, facing heavy tear gas fired by security forces.
Many were seen breaking their Ramadan fasts in the street.
Marchers also chanted “Soldiers back to barracks” and “The people want civilian rule”, as well as chants calling for dissolution of the government-linked militia known as the Janjaweed.
Accused of committing war crimes in Darfur in 2003, the Janjaweed were run by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the second in command behind Sudan’s military ruler Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
Marches were also reported in Wad Madani – south of Khartoum – and in Darfur itself, where protesters carried placards asking “Where is the peace?”
Sudan is still ruled by Burhan, the military leader who seized power in an October 2021 coup, aborting the transition to civilian rule agreed after the 2019 overthrow of Islamist general Omar al-Bashir, who himself seized power in a 1989 putsch.
A new delay to the signing of a deal to restore the transition, which had been rescheduled for Thursday, prompted the civilian opposition to launch nationwide protests.
The agreement, which provides for the formation of a civilian government and is strongly supported by the international community, is meant to end a political vacuum that followed the 2021 coup.
But the signing was postponed for a second time late on Wednesday as the army and the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continued negotiations over what commitments they would make on military restructuring.
Created in 2013, the RSF emerged from the Janjaweed that Bashir unleashed a decade earlier against non-Arab ethnic groups in the western region of Darfur. The militia has since been accused of war crimes.
The agreement faces opposition from pro-democracy “resistance committees” that reject negotiations with the military and have led anti-military protests since the coup, which derailed a previous political transition.
The Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), a coalition of civilian parties that back the deal, blamed the postponement on members of Bashir’s outlawed National Congress Party, who in recent weeks have made public appearances in banquets during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as well as other events.
“We know that elements of the deposed regime are actively trying to spoil the political process and sow discord between military institutions,” said prominent civilian politician and FFC leader Khalid Omer Yousif.
The signing ceremony had been pushed back “due to a resumption of talks between soldiers”, the FFC said.
Analysts say the sticking point has been the integration into the regular army of the powerful paramilitary RSF, led by Burhan’s deputy Dagalo.
The two have been at loggerheads over the timetable for the RSF’s integration and analysts have pointed to a deepening rift between them.