Sudan Protesters Strike as Deadlock with Military Persists
Thousands of Sudanese workers began a national strike on Tuesday, leaving air and bus passengers stranded as protesters piled pressure on the military to hand power to a civilian administration.
The leaders of an umbrella protest movement remain at loggerheads with army generals who ousted president Omar al-Bashir last month over whether a civilian or a soldier should head a new governing body.
The body is expected to install a transitional civilian government, which in turn would prepare for the first post-Bashir elections after a three-year interim period.
In a bid to step up pressure on the ruling military council, the Alliance for Freedom and Change protest movement called for a two-day general strike starting on Tuesday.
Thousands of employees of government offices, banks, private sector firms and at the Red Sea hub of Port Sudan joined the strike, insisting that only civilian rule can lift Sudan out of its political crisis.
"This strike is the first step. If our demands are not heard we will go for comprehensive civil disobedience," warned banker Yousef Mohamed, as he chanted slogans along with his colleagues outside his bank in Khartoum.
"We tried a military government but it didn't work for us in Sudan."
AFP correspondents who toured parts of the capital saw groups of employees participating in the strike and protesting at several squares.
Traffic in Khartoum was normal but travellers in private vehicles whistled and clapped to express their solidarity with those participating in the strike.
Hundreds of workers in Port Sudan - a vital economic hub -- also joined the strike.
"We want civilian rule to get rid of the corruption in Port Sudan," said Osman Tahir, a worker at the dock.
Hundreds of passengers were stranded at Khartoum airport as scores of employees at the facility went on strike, chanting "civilian rule, civilian rule," an AFP correspondent there said.
- Passengers stranded -
Many employees carried banners or wore badges that read "We are on strike".
Sudanese airlines Badr, Tarco and Nova suspended flights on Tuesday. EgyptAir also cancelled its flights to Khartoum for the day, while flydubai said it was "monitoring" the situation in Sudan.
Passengers were also stranded at Khartoum's main bus terminal as hundreds of employees observed the strike.
Many carried banners reading: "Today, tomorrow no buses as we are on 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.
Protest leader Siddiq Farukh told AFP that the strike was a message to the world that Sudanese people "don't want the power to be with the military".
Another prominent protester, Wajdi Saleh, told reporters late Monday that there was "still no breakthrough" in negotiations.
"We hope that we reach an agreement with the military council and won't have to go on an indefinite strike," he said.
Protest leaders had said medics, lawyers, prosecutors, employees in the electricity and water sectors, public transport, railways, telecommunication and civil aviation were set to take part in the strike.
Ahead of the walkout a key member of the protest movement, the National Umma Party, said it opposed the plan as there had been no unanimous decision for a strike.
Umma and its chief Sadiq al-Mahdi have for decades been the main opponents of Bashir's iron-fisted rule, and threw their weight behind the protest movement after nationwide demonstrations erupted in December.
- 'Part of former regime' -
Protester Hazar Mustafa said the generals could not be trusted.
"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.
The army ousted Bashir in April after months of protests against his autocratic rule, including a sit-in by tens of thousands of protesters outside Khartoum's military headquarters.
But the generals, backed by key regional powers, have resisted calls from protesters and Western governments to hand over power to civilians.
Thousands of protesters remain camped outside army headquarters, demanding the generals step down.
Before suspending talks last week, the two sides had agreed on several key issues, including the three-year transition and the creation of a 300-member parliament, with two thirds of lawmakers coming from the protesters' umbrella group.
But negotiations stalled as protest leaders insisted a civilian must head the new sovereign council, with civilians making up the majority of its members -- proposals rejected by the military.