Protesters in Sudan started a two-day general strike on Tuesday to pile pressure on the ruling army to hand over power to a civilian government.
The strike left hundreds of airline passengers stranded at Khartoum airport on Tuesday morning after opposition group Alliance for Freedom and Change requested Sudanese pilots to participate.
An official at the capital’s international airport, said that local flights were suspended early Tuesday however “the international flights are going as usual,” he said. The official declined to give his name because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
“Just today two airplanes of Ethiopian and Saudi airlines landed at the airport, but employers of some companies are protesting and making such troubles,” he said.
Flight tracking sites showed some international flights had departed Tuesday but that the status of most flights was “unknown” or “cancelled”.
‘Better than we expected’
Leaders of the umbrella protest movement and army generals who seized power after ousting President Omar al-Bashir last month, have so far failed to iron out differences over who should lead a new governing body – a civilian or soldier.
“The response to the call for a strike has been better than we expected,” Siddiq Farukh, a leader of the protest movement, told AFP news agency on Monday.
“The two-day strike aims to deliver a message to the whole world that the Sudanese people want a real change and they don’t want the power to be with the military,” he added.
The new governing body is expected to install a transitional civilian government, which in turn would prepare for the first post-al-Bashir elections after a three-year interim period ends.
The deputy head of the Transitional Military Council, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who goes by the nickname Hemeti, said on Monday that the council was ready to hand over power swiftly.
Hemeti accused the opposition of not being serious about sharing power and wanted to confine the military to a ceremonial role.
“By God, their slogans cheated us. I swear we were honest with them 100 percent,” Hemeti said at a dinner with police.
“That’s why, by God Almighty, we will not hand this country except to safe hands.”
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said it is not clear whether this latest round of strikes will pressure the military to return to the negotiating table.
Markets, shops, restaurants closed
“The military council, even before the strikes started this morning, have been voicing concerns about its impact. They said they will not accept people to go on strike. They said those who do follow the opposition’s call and go on strike will be suspended. We are yet to hear from them today,” Morgan said.
“The opposition is hoping that they will be able to put enough pressure on the military to make them return to the negotiating table. Whether that will happen remains to be seen,” she added.
Sudan’s Central Bank said the majority of its employees are on strike. A dozen commercial banks in the capital were closed, Muez Ahmed, a strike organizer at the Bank of Khartoum told Al Jazeera.
“I can confirm that the 110 branches of the Bank of Khartoum are striking, also the banks of Faisal, Farmers, Animal resources, Alnilain, Exports development, Sudanese-French bank, Albaraka and others are all striking, he said
In downtown Khartoum, popular markets, shops and restaurants were closed and public transportation was not working, and Khartoum’s Bahri train station was empty, with no trains moving.
Electric company and telecommunications workers closed shop as did some private flour mills and food industries.
Protest leaders had said medics, lawyers and prosecutors, would also participate in the strike.
They had earlier said that the strike in the telecommunications and aviation sectors would not affect operations.
But the protest movement’s plan has been dealt a blow after a key member, the National Umma Party, said it opposed the strike plan as there had been no unanimous decision over it.
“We have to avoid such escalated measures that are not fully agreed,” the party said on Sunday.
Umma and its chief Sadiq al-Mahdi have for decades been the main opponents of al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule.
The party threw its weight behind the protest movement after nationwide demonstrations erupted against al-Bashir in December.
Mahdi’s elected government was toppled by al-Bashir in a coup in 1989.
In a recent interview with AFP, Mahdi warned protesters not to “provoke” the army rulers as they had been instrumental in al-Bashir’s removal.
Protester Hazar Mustafa said a civilian government was the only solution to Sudan’s problems.
“We see the military council as part of the former regime. We don’t see it upholding any rights and building a just state,” she said.
Ahead of the strike, the chief of the ruling military council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo have been touring Khartoum’s regional allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The oil-rich Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with Egypt, are seen as backing the generals even as the United States leads Western calls to swiftly establish civilian rule in the country.
Meanwhile, hundreds of passengers were stranded at Khartoum airport as scores of employees at the facility went on strike. Many employees carried banners or wore badges that read “We are on strike”.
Sudanese airlines Badr, Tarco and Nova suspended flights on Tuesday, although some international flights were still scheduled.
Passengers were also stranded at Khartoum’s main bus terminal as hundreds of employees observed the strike.
“I have to travel to Gadaref to be with my family for Eid, but I’m not angry as I understand the reason for the strike,” traveller Fatima Omar said as she waited with her children at the bus terminal.
Mohammed Amin contributed reporting from Khartoum