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Sudan rivals ‘agree to fresh talks as protest strike ends’

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Sudanese vendors sell vegetables in the central market of Khartoum on Monday. Protest leaders have agreed to end a campaign of civil disobedience, an Ethiopian mediator said on Tuesday. AFP

Sudan rivals ‘agree to fresh talks as protest strike ends’

Protest leaders have agreed to end a campaign of civil disobedience launched after a deadly crackdown on demonstrators and to resume talks with Sudan’s ruling generals, an Ethiopian mediator said on Tuesday.

The apparent breakthrough, which the military rulers had yet to confirm, came as a top US diplomat prepared to embark on a mission to press the generals to halt the crackdown on protesters demanding civilian rule.

Sudan has been led by a military council since it toppled autocratic president Omar al-Bashir on April 11 after months of nationwide protests against his iron-fisted rule of three decades.

Following Bashir’s removal, protesters camped outside military headquarters in Khartoum for weeks to demand civilian rule, before security and paramilitary forces dispersed them in a June 3 crackdown that killed dozens.

The protest movement launched a campaign of civil disobedience on Sunday, and most businesses stayed closed and residents hunkered indoors for the next three days.

It had threatened to pile even more pressure on the generals by releasing a list of members for a new ruling body – the key point of dispute between the two sides.

But they agreed to end the campaign and return to talks, said an envoy of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

“The Alliance for Freedom and Change agreed to end the civil disobedience [campaign] from today [Tuesday],” said Mahmoud Drir, who has been mediating between the two sides since Ahmed visited Khartoum last week.

“Both sides have also agreed to resume talks soon,” he told reporters.

Protest ‘a success’

The UN Security Council called on all sides “to continue working together towards a consensual solution to the current crisis” and voiced support for African-led diplomatic efforts.

The council also called for an immediate halt to attacks against civilians and stressed the importance of upholding human rights – a week after Russia and China blocked a similar draft statement on the crisis.

In Khartoum, the protest strike saw most shops and businesses remain closed with some companies extending to the end of the week the Eid al-Fitr holidays marking the end of Ramadan.

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces accused of having played the lead role in last week’s crackdown patrolled districts in their trademark pickup trucks fitted with heavy machine guns.

“We are now getting used to living with guns as we are seeing so many of these men walking into restaurants with their weapons,” one resident said as a group of RSF members entered an eatery.

In the northern district of Bahari, a hotbed of unrest where protesters had put up roadblocks in the past few weeks, most shops were closed on Tuesday but there were no barricades to be seen, an AFP correspondent reported.

Demonstrators declared their nationwide shutdown a success.

“This shows clearly what we can do, and also in a peaceful way,” said Ishraga Mohamed.

Protest leaders vowed to name a new ruling body to replace the generals.

“The Alliance for Freedom and Change will reveal its sovereign council and a prime minister in an announcement to be made at a suitable time,” the Sudanese Professionals Association, a key member of the umbrella protest movement, said late on Monday.

The crackdown came after negotiations between protest leaders and the generals collapsed late last month over who should lead the new governing body – a civilian or a soldier.

The US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Tibor Nagy, was to meet both the generals and protest leaders in Khartoum, the State Department said.

The US has led calls for a civilian-led transition even as its Arab allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have backed the generals.

The military-led government blamed deteriorating conditions in Khartoum on the disobedience campaign.

“We are appealing to those who blocked the roads to open them for all the sick people … since many people lost their lives because they cannot reach the hospital,” senior health ministry official Mohamed Altom told reporters.

A doctors committee linked to the protests accused the Janjaweed militia of shooting dead nine people on Monday in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

The Janjaweed, a militia accused by rights groups of widespread abuses at the height of Darfur’s conflict which started in 2003, have been absorbed in Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.