Sudan military rulers suspend talks with protesters for 72 hours

Pro-democracy protesters vow to press on with sit-in after military council suspends talks after violence in Khartoum.

    Sudan's pro-democracy protesters said on Thursday the ruling military council's suspension of talks was a "regrettable" setback to efforts to forge a new democratic era following the overthrow of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir.

    The Transitional Military Council (TMC) and protest leaders had been expected to come to an agreement on Wednesday over the make-up of a new body to govern Sudan for three years.

    But in the early hours of Thursday, the chief of Sudan's ruling military council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, announced the talks had been suspended for 72 hours as the security in the capital had deteriorated.

    The Alliance for Freedom and Change, the group that is leading the protest movement and negotiating the transfer of power with the army rulers, said the move was "regretable".

    "It ignores the developments achieved in negotiations so far... and the fact that Wednesday's meeting was to finalise the agreement, which would have stopped the escalations such as roadblocks."

    The protest movement vowed to press on with the "sit-in outside the army headquarters and across the country".

    At least 14 people were wounded, some from gunfire, when security forces tried to remove demonstrators from central Khartoum, according to a group linked to the protest movement.

    Both the military and the opposition blamed each other for Wednesday's violence.

    "We hold the military council responsible for attacking civilians," said Amjad Farid, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals' Association (SPA), which spearheaded months of protests that led to the military's removal of President Omar al-Bashir last month.

    "They are using the same methods as the previous regime in dealing with rebels," he told Reuters news agency.

    But al-Burhan accused the demonstrators of breaking an understanding on the de-escalation process while talks were under way and said protesters were disrupting life in the capital by blocking roads outside a protest zone agreed upon with the military.

    He said bridges, roads and a railway line had been closed and there was an "infiltration of armed elements among demonstrators who were shooting at security forces".

    On Thursday morning, several roadblocks in downtown Khartoum had been taken down with troops from the Rapid Support Froces (RSF) deployed in some areas, according to AFP news agency.

    Roadblocks on key thoroughfares in the capital are being used by demonstrators to pressure the generals to transfer power to a civilian administration.

    Tensions running high

    The developments came hours after protesters said troops in military vehicles using the logo of the RSF fired extensively as they tried to clear demonstrators on al-Mek Nimir Avenue in central Khartoum, near the foreign ministry.

    "People were walking towards the barricades and they (security forces) were firing shots at them," a 20-year-old demonstrator, who asked not to be named, told Reuters news agency, showing a handful of empty bullet casings and referring to roadblocks set up by protesters.

    The RSF denied opening fire at demonstrators, state TV reported.

    The violence took place hours before the TMC was due to meet representatives of the umbrella opposition group Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) to try to hammer out the final deal for the transition period.

    Al Jazeera's Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, called the suspension of the talks a "very significant development" that showed "the level of tension between the two sides".

    "Looking ahead, there is a lot of tension and many challenges between the two sides in trying to form a transitional government."

    Deadly violence

    The violence came after the TMC announced earlier on Wednesday that after two days of talks it had brokered a deal with the DFCF alliance on the composition of a legislative council and a three-year transition period to a civilian administration.

    Under the agreement the opposition alliance would have two-thirds of the seats on a legislative council, the  TMC announced.

    However, the two sides have yet to agree on the make-up of a sovereign council, the envisaged top tier of power during the planned transition period, with both wanting majority representation.

    Amid the back-and-forth discussions, protesters pushing for a civilian-led transition have remained on the streets, including outside the army headquarters where a sit-in started on April 6.

    Some roads in the centre of the capital have been blocked with stones, bricks, branches and slabs of concrete that security and paramilitary forces have occasionally tried to remove.

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    On Monday, after security forces opened fire while trying to clear some protest sites, an outburst of violence left at least four people dead, including three protesters and a military police officer. They were the first deaths linked to the protests for several weeks.

    Al Jazeera's Morgan said the TMC denied responsibility for the violence.

    "The military council came out and said the people who fired at protesters were not part of their forces or from the RSF," she said, adding that the TMC said it would launch an independent investigation into the incident.

    The United States blamed Sudan's military rulers for the deaths, however.

    "The tragic attacks on protesters ... were clearly the result of the Transitional Military Council trying to impose its will on the protesters by attempting to remove roadblocks," the US Embassy in Khartoum said in a statement on Facebook.

    "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 TMC was unable to control."

    Al-Bashir charged

    Separately on Monday, Sudan's prosecutor general announced that al-Bashir had been charged "with inciting and participating" in the killing of protesters during the mass protests that led to the end of his decades-long rule.

    There has been no comment from al-Bashir since his removal and arrest on April 11. The former president is reportedly being held at the maximum security Kobar prison in Khartoum.

    Demonstrations against the 75-year-old were sparked by a government decision in December to slash bread and fuel subsidies but quickly escalated into wider calls for him to stand down.

    Human Rights Watch, citing monitoring groups, said last month at least 70 protesters have been killed by government forces since the demonstrations began.

    Last week, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors put the death toll at more than 90.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies