Sudanese demonstrators celebrate after Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf stepped down as head of the country's transitional ruling military council, as protesters demanded quicker political change, near the Defence Ministry in Khartoum
By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The new head of Sudan's military council said on Saturday a civilian government would be formed after consultations with the opposition and promised the transition period would last for a maximum of two years, as protesters kept up pressure for rapid change.
In his first televised address, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdelrahman said he was also cancelling a night curfew ordered by his predecessor and ordered the release of all prisoners jailed under emergency laws put in place by ousted President Omar al-Bashir.
A coalition of groups leading the protests said it had accepted an invitation by the armed forces to meet on Saturday to discuss a new civilian government.
Bashir was overthrown on Thursday after weeks of mass protests brought on by rising food costs, high unemployment and increasing repression during his three decades in power.
The main protest organiser had earlier on Saturday urged people to keep marching to demand a civilian government after the defence minister and the intelligence chief stepped down.
Thousands of people gathered in front of the Defence Ministry in central Khartoum, a Reuters witness said.
Salah Abdallah Mohamed Saleh, known as Salah Gosh, the former head of the National Intelligence and Security Service quit, state media said on Saturday. He was once the most influential person in the country after Bashir and protesters held him responsible for the killing of demonstrators demanding an end to military rule.
Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf stepped down as head of the transitional military council late on Friday after only a day in the post.
Celebrations erupted on the streets of Khartoum overnight after Ibn Auf's resignation. Thousands of protesters waved flags and illuminated mobile phones in the darkness and drivers hooted car horns. People chanted: "The second has fallen!" a reference to Ibn Auf and Bashir, witnesses said.
"Islamists have now lost control and they are in shock. Their ability to project influence in an organized way inside the state appears weak," said Sudanese analyst Khalid al-Tijani.
"The reason for the changes in Sudan is the pressure from protesters and pressures within the army, and the fear among military commanders of a split in the armed forces."
Burhan, the new head of the military council, was the third most senior general in the Sudanese armed forces and is little known in public life. As head of Sudan’s ground forces he oversaw Sudanese troops fighting in the Saudi-led Yemen war and has close ties to senior Gulf military officials.
“The opposition are demanding a civilian government, but I think it will be a mixed government," analyst Muhammad Osman said before Burhan's remarks on Saturday. "The military would want to retain the defence and interior portfolios.”
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has been leading protests to demand a civilian government, called for more demonstrations earlier on Saturday.
"Today, we continue the march to finish the victory for our victorious revolution," the SPA said in a statement.
"We assert that our revolution is continuing and will not retreat or deviate from its path until we achieve ... our people's legitimate demands of handing over power to a civilian government," it said.
Bashir, 75, seized power in a 1989 military coup.
The protests against him escalated last Saturday when thousands of demonstrators, apparently bolstered by change in Algeria following similar protests, marched towards the Defence Ministry in Khartoum to deliver a memorandum demanding the military side with them.
Demonstrators have been camping outside the compound since then to push for a handover of power.
At least 16 people were killed and 20 injured by stray bullets at protests and sit-ins on Thursday and Friday, a police spokesman said. Government buildings and private property were also attacked, spokesman Hashem Ali added.
He asked citizens to help ensure safety and public order.
The military council under Ibn Auf had said it would not extradite Bashir to face accusations of genocide at the international war crimes court. Instead he might go on trial in Sudan.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; Writing by Lena Masri; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Jane Merriman)