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Sudanese hold mass rally amid standoff with generals

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Tens of thousands of Sudanese protesters took part in a mass rally Thursday to step up pressure on the military to hand power to civilians following last month's overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir.

Demonstrators gathered at meeting points across the capital, Khartoum, and marched toward the main sit-in outside the military headquarters, waving Sudanese flags and chanting slogans against the transitional military council.

"Dirty Burhan, who brought him? It is the Islamists," the protesters chanted, referring to Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the military council. Burhan is not an Islamist, but Islamists played a major role in the 1989 coup that brought al-Bashir to power and populate the upper echelons of the security forces.

"The military council is dragging its feet on giving us a civilian government. We want to have a civilian government. We do not want any procrastination," said Abu Bakr al-Mudasir, who had travelled from an area south of the capital to attend the rally.

The Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, had called for a million-person march as talks with the military council reached a deadlock over the role of the generals in the transitional period.

"Today's rally is a message to the military council as well as regional and international players that the Sudanese people will not give up on their demand for a civilian government," said Ahmed Rabie, a leader in the SPA, which led the four months of protests that drove al-Bashir from power.

Rabie, a member of the protesters' delegation to the talks, said they proposed an 11-member sovereign council with three seats set aside for the military. He said the military countered with a proposal for a 10-member council with just three civilians.

In their latest bid to narrow the gap, the two sides agreed on a committee of public figures to mediate the talks. "The members of this committee are all patriotic public figures and we have no reservation over any of them," said Rabie. "However, they are not authorized to sign off on any deal on our behalf."

The military forced al-Bashir from office on April 11 and has since jailed him and other former senior officials. But the protesters fear the generals intend to hold onto power or cut a deal with other factions that would leave much of al-Bashir's regime intact.

Earlier this week, the military demanded that protesters clear roadblocks around their main sit-in outside the military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, which was set up days before al-Bashir's overthrow. The protesters responded by building more barricades.

"This is a sit-in and there cannot be any real sit-in if roads are cleared," said Rabie. The protest organizers face a challenge next week with the start of the holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk for at least 14 hours under unrelenting heat. The organizers say they will provide air-conditioned tents and other provisions.

"We have already collected donations from friends and families that will allow us to survive Ramadan," said Adel Ibrahim, a journalist and SPA member.

ElHennawy reported from Cairo

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