Protest train rolls into Khartoum as US urges civilian handover

KHARTOUM (AFP) – Hundreds of protesters arrived on a packed train in Khartoum on Tuesday to join a weeks-long sit-in outside army headquarters, as a top United States (US) official reiterated Washington’s backing for demands the country’s military council hand power to a civilian government.

But African leaders meeting in Cairo insisted on “the need for more time” for a transition, urging the African Union to extend by three months its end of April deadline for the council to hand power to civilians or face suspension from the bloc, Egypt’s presidency said.

Sudanese protesters vowed to continue their struggle for a civilian government to take over from the military council set up after the army ousted longtime president Omar al-Bashir on April 11 after months of mass protests.

The demonstrations first broke out in December in the central Sudanese town of Atbara.

On Tuesday a train from the same town, overflowing with flag-waving demonstrators, chugged through north Khartoum’s Bahari railway station before winding its way to the protest site, an AFP photographer said.

Protesters perched on the roof of the train, chanting “freedom, peace, justice” as crowds of supporters, who had waited for hours, greeted them as the procession came to a stop outside the army headquarters in central Khartoum.

Sudanese protesters from the city of Atbara cheer atop a train as they arrive at the Bahari station in Khartoum. – AFP

Calling for retribution for those killed during Bashir’s rule, protesters chanted “blood for blood, we will not accept compensations”.

The protests that broke out in Atbara swiftly mushroomed into nationwide demonstrations against Bashir’s iron-fisted rule, finally leading to his ouster by the army.

Under Bashir, officials said at least 65 people were killed in protest-related violence since December.

But initial jubilation at the end of Bashir’s three-decade reign quickly turned to anger over the military council’s plan to keep power for a two-year transition period.

World powers have urged the council to cede power to a civilian administration.

“We support the legitimate demand of the people of Sudan for a civilian-led government, and we are here to urge and to encourage parties to work together to advance that agenda as soon as possible,” top State Department official Makila James told AFP on Tuesday.

“The people of Sudan have made their demand very clear,” she said.

“We want to support them in that as the best path forward to a society that is respectful of human rights, that respects the rule of law and that would be able to address this country’s very serious issues.”

During her ongoing trip, James met the country’s military council chief Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and several other officials.

James however reiterated that talks with Khartoum over removing Sudan from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism remain suspended.