By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's military rulers and the main opposition coalition reached an agreement paving the way for a new transitional government on Saturday, the African Union said, after lengthy negotiations following the fall of veteran leader Omar al-Bashir.
The agreement, which outlines the shape of the transitional government, was brokered by the African Union and neighbouring Ethiopia in talks that were sometimes suspended because of street violence in Khartoum and other cities.
In a region already riven by conflict, Sudan has been in a state of turmoil since the army ousted Bashir in April, with dozens of demonstrators killed during mass protests.
As news of the agreement emerged in the early hours of Saturday, people gathered on Nile Street, a main avenue in Khartoum, honking car horns and ululating in celebration.
"We're victorious!" some chanted while others sang the national anthem.
The main opposition coalition, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), welcomed the agreement as a "first step with more to follow" and pledged to complete the journey to "freedom, peace and justice" in Sudan.
But Magdi el-Gizouli, a Sudanese academic and a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute, said it was "a bit too early to speculate" about how the agreement would play out.
"Definitely there is pressure from all sides to sign something, the mediators are pushing, public opinion in Sudan wants an arrangement ... But how they will turn that into practice is a completely different question," he told Reuters.
African Union mediator Mohamed Hassan Lebatt told a news conference that representatives from both sides - civilian pro-democracy groups and the military - would continue talks on Saturday on the technical details of the accord.
The FFC said both sides were expected to sign it on Sunday.
The declaration states that the FFC will appoint a prime minister as soon as the document is signed. The prime minister will be tasked to form the government in consultation with the FFC. However, the defence and the interior ministers will be appointed by the military council.
The declaration also envisages the appointment of a 300-member legislative assembly to serve during the transitional period. The FFC would have 67% of its seats and other political groups not associated with Bashir would have the rest.
Once the transitional government - or sovereign council - starts work, Sudan embarks on a three-year transition period expected lead to elections.
The negotiators agreed last month that the sovereign council would have 11 members — five officers selected by the military council, five civilians chosen by the FFC and another civilian to be agreed upon by both sides. Its first leader will be from the military.
When the sovereign council is formed, the current ruling body, a transitional military council, will be dissolved. It is currently headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), some of whose members have been accused of involvement in killing demonstrators.
The role of the RSF had been a point of contention during the negotiations. According to a draft of the declaration seen by Reuters the RSF will now fall under the general command of the armed forces.
But El-Gizouli doubted this would change anything since the RSF had always been formally under army control.
"This is a private militia, it is not under the authority of anybody other than its commander," he said. "This was the condition under Bashir and will probably be the case now."
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum; Additional reporting by Nayera Abdallah, Samar Hassan and Amina Ismail in Cairo; Writing by Nadine Awadalla and Giles Elgood; Editing by Angus MacSwan)