Sudanese protesters defy curfew, day after military coup

Sudanese pro-democracy protesters who spent four months on the streets rallying against the country's autocratic president pressed on with their campaign for a civilian government on Friday, defying the military leaders who overthrew Omar al-Bashir the day before.

Thousands kept up their sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum overnight and into the morning, despite a curfew imposed by the army after it arrested al-Bashir.

The whereabouts of Sudan's president of 30 years remained unknown, and though the military leaders had said he was in a "safe place", the murkiness stirred rumors that he had fled the country or had been spirited out by the army and some part of the security apparatus, which had until Thursday served as the main pillars of al-Bashir's power.

Organisers of the demonstration said they would keep up their campaign and that they disagree with the army's plans to rule the country for the next two years. It was not immediately clear if the army would move against the protesters.

The mood on Friday among the crowd in Khartoum appeared festive, with protesters playing music and chanting, "Down again" – a reference to Defence Minister Awad Mohammed Ibn Ouf who announced al-Bashir's ouster on Thursday on Sudanese state TV.

Ibn Ouf, on a US sanctions list for genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur, was sworn in as head of the new military transitional council that has taken over.

The rest of the council is yet to be announced as the Sudanese official news agency reported that Ibn Ouf has postponed this step, pending "further consultations". Meanwhile, the state SUNA news agency said that Ibn Ouf would hold a meeting with political factions and leaders of the protest movement later in the day, apparently to negotiate a political settlement.

After the dramatic events of Thursday, when tens of thousands poured out ono Khartoum streets to celebrate al-Bashir's ouster, human rights groups urged Sudan's new military authorities to hand al-Bashir over to the International Criminal Court, where he faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for his deadly campaign against insurgents in Darfur.

In Washington, the US State Department called on the Sudanese military to "follow the will of the people" and "commit to the speedy handover to civilian rule".

On Friday, the commander of Sudan's feared Rapid Support Force, a paramilitary force, said it would not "accept any solutions rejected by the Sudanese people" and for "opening the door for dialogue" with the protest movement. The force draws its origins from the Janjaweed militias that were implicated in the Darfur genocide. Mohammed Hamadati, the commander, said talks are needed so Sudan would "avoid slipping into chaos".

In his televised announcement on Thursday, Ibn Ouf said also that the military had suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, declared a three-month state of emergency and closed the country's borders and airspace. A nighttime curfew was also part of the measures.

Sudan analyst and researcher Eric Reeves described the military's ouster of the longtime president as a "palace coup with al-Bashir as scapegoat".

"The three-month state of emergency is a clear indication that they intend to crush the uprising in this time," he said of the Sudanese military.

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