(Bloomberg) -- Sudan had its first full day in 30 years without Omar al-Bashir in charge, as protesters in the North African nation vowed to keep up the pressure on the military that deposed him to make way for a civilian government.
Demonstrators maintained an overnight sit-in outside army headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, ignoring a 10 p.m.-4 a.m. curfew imposed when the military seized power. Defense Minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf was sworn in late Thursday as head of a military council, which plans to lead Africa’s third-largest country for two years and has declared a three-month state of emergency.
The council wants to begin dialogue with political parties and supports “the demands of the people,” representative Omar Zain Abdin said Friday in a televised address. “We want to stabilize the country and give equal opportunities to all.” He said there’s a chance the transitional period could be reduced after negotiations.
The comments -- and the lack of a crackdown on the now seven-day sit-in -- may temporarily ease fears of a confrontation with the army, which says it needs tightened security to enact its changes. There was a carnival atmosphere at the site Thursday night, with protesters chanting, singing and cheering the soldiers guarding the base, even as many activists criticized the military’s plan for an extended transition.
Speaking at a United Nations Security Council meeting Friday, Sudanese envoy Yasir Abdelsalam said “the transitional period could be shortened depending on events on the ground,’’ adding that any democratic process requires patience. Security Council members were expected to hold closed-door consultations later on Friday.
The ouster of al-Bashir, who himself took power in a 1989 coup, ends the reign of one of the continent’s longest-serving rulers and came after four months of protests in which at least 45 people died.
The 75-year-old, now under house arrest, becomes the second regional leader after Algeria’s military-backed president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to leave this month in the face of nationwide protests. The events have stirred echoes of the Arab Spring uprisings that rocked the region from 2011. Protests were reported in many of Sudan’s cities on Friday.
Celebrations at al-Bashir’s departure at the main Khartoum protest quickly shifted into calls for much broader reform. The Forces of the Freedom and Change Declaration, an alliance that has helped organize the demonstrations, refused to accept what it called a military coup that retains many of the faces that Sudan’s people rebelled against.
Military council head Ibn Auf was for years a key figure in al-Bashir’s regime. The U.S. placed him under sanctions in 2007 for his role in the conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region, where he liaised between the government and the Janjaweed, a militia notorious for its attacks on civilians.
The takeover, which reportedly involved Ibn Auf, intelligence chief Salah Gosh and the leader of a powerful militia, is “an attempt to save the regime, even without the man who has formally presided over it for 30 years but who, for so many years, was not really in power,” said Harry Verhoeven, author of ‘Water, Civilization and Power in Sudan.’
“Their gamble is very much that they can save their own skin and that of the regime by dropping Bashir and his National Congress Party, which has increasingly become an empty shell” since South Sudan’s secession in 2011 and the onset of a devastating economic crisis, he said.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and genocide in Darfur. Sudan isn’t a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC and the army on Friday said they wouldn’t extradite him.
(Updates with comment from Sudan’s UN envoy in fifth paragraph.)
--With assistance from David Wainer.
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