Sudan protesters begin 2-day strike to press ruling military

OMAR AKOUR and SAMY MAGDY
FILE - In this April 30, 2019 file photo, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of the military council, second right, speaks at a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan. Sudan's ruling military council is meeting with protesters on Sunday, May19, 2019, to discuss the country's political transition after talks were halted for three days while roads were cleared outside the main sit-in in the capital, Khartoum. (AP Photo)

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Sudan's protest leaders launched a two-day general strike on Tuesday to press the ruling military to hand over power to a civilian-led authority following last month's overthrow of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir amid nationwide demonstrations against his rule.

The strike comes as talks between protesters and the military council, which took over the country after al-Bashir's ouster, remain deadlocked.

The two sides are split over the makeup and leadership of a sovereign council that would run the country during a three-year transition period. The talks stalled despite apparent progress in negotiations earlier this month over an interim Cabinet and a legislative body for the transitional period.

The protesters demand "limited military representation" on the sovereign council but the ruling generals refuse to relinquish power.

After the military ousted al-Bashir, who ruled for 30 years, army generals took over but the protesters remained in the streets, mainly in a sit-in outside the military's headquarters in Khartoum, the country's capital, demanding the military hand over power.

The protesters are represented by the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, an alliance of opposition groups and activists.

The leading opposition Umma Party on Tuesday, however, criticized some groups within the alliance for "erroneous and hasty actions," such as the call for the strike. The party didn't name any specific groups.

Umma said Sunday it opposes the "preparations and timing" of the two-day strike.

Party chief Sadek al-Mahdi led the country's last democratically elected government, which Omar al-Bashir, an autocrat supported by the military, ousted with Islamist support in 1989. Umma is a member of the FDFC.

Wajdi Saleh, a negotiator for the protesters, said they decided to hold the strike after negotiations with the military were suspended. The protesters earlier threatened a civil disobedience campaign if the generals fail to comply with their demands.

"They've refused all our proposals," Saleh told a press conference late on Monday in Khartoum. "If we don't achieve our goals, we will use the civil weapon through a comprehensive strike and open civil disobedience."

The Sudanese Professionals' Association, which has spearheaded the protests since late last year, urged people to show up at work on Tuesday and Wednesday but abstain from any activity.

People were seen standing outside their work places in Khartoum on Tuesday morning.

Outside the Byblos Bank headquarters, a group of employees chanted: "Freedom, peace, justice and a civilian led-authority is the choice of the people." They held up placards, reading "I'm a bank employee, on strike."

Al-Jayli Nour, an employee, said the protesters are clear they want a civilian-led authority. "This revolution wasn't started in order for the country to be ruled by the military," he said.

Electric plant workers joined the strike, as did health workers and employees in Sudan's central bank. A tour of the city's streets revealed that many shops and restaurants joined the strike and transportation, including railways, had come to a halt.

By Tuesday afternoon, thousands of protesters marched to the sit-in outside the military complex in Khartoum

The deputy head of the military council, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, criticized the strike.

"Is it justified to cut off water and electricity? We are part of the revolution, and without the armed forces and without the security apparatus, Omar al-Bashir would stay in power until now," he said.

"This situation doesn't lead the country forward," he added.

He said the military was ready for an immediate transfer of power to civilians, and he called for all Sudanese to take part in the transition. The military council said in April that al-Bashir's National Congress party would not join the transitional government.

"If we find a trusted person, tonight and before tomorrow we will hand over power to him," Dagalo said.

His comments came at a ceremony hosted by a tribal leader in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman.

On Monday, Dagalo accused the protest forces of not being serious about sharing power during the transition.

Meanwhile in Cairo, EgyptAir said Tuesday it canceled two flights to Khartoum due to events in Sudan. The airline said it would resume the flights later Tuesday.

Workers at the Khartoum International Airport had announced they would join the strike.

Footage and photos circulated online showed images of empty airport halls as well as flight attendants holding pro-strike posters outside the facility.

"They didn't allow any plane to arrive in Sudan. Why are they making this strike? From tomorrow any plane wants to arrive in Sudan, it will be welcomed," Dagalo said.

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Associated Press writer Omar Akour reported this story in Khartoum and AP writer Samy Magdy reported from Cairo.