Sudan’s second new military leader in as many days vowed Saturday to “uproot” deposed president Omar al-Bashir’s regime and release protesters, in a bid to placate demonstrators demanding civilian rule.
“I announce the restructuring of state institutions according to the law and pledge to fight corruption and uproot the regime and its symbols,” General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said, a day after he was sworn in to head Sudan’s new ruling military council.
He also ordered the release of all prisoners jailed by special emergency courts and the immediate lifting of a night-time curfew imposed by the council earlier this week.
Career soldier Burhan took the helm of Sudan’s transitional military council on Friday when his predecessor General Awad Ibn Ouf — a close aide of ousted veteran president Bashir — quit after little more than 24 hours in power.
Burhan also pledged Saturday that individuals implicated in killing protesters would face justice.
His initial announcements indicated he wanted to show the tens of thousands of protesters on the streets that he is not part of the regime’s old guard and was genuinely committed to reform.
He also accepted the resignation of the head of the feared National Intelligence and Security Service, Salah Abdallah Mohammed Salih — widely known as Salih Ghosh — the military council announced.
Salih Ghosh had overseen a sweeping crackdown against protesters in four months of mass demonstrations that led to the army’s toppling of Bashir on Thursday.
Demand for civilian rule
Dozens of protesters were killed and thousands of activists, opposition leaders and journalists arrested.
The police said Friday that 16 people had been killed in live fire in Khartoum alone over the previous two days as NISS agents led a last stand for Bashir before the army intervened.
But in a statement Saturday evening, Burhan said the deputy chief of the NISS was a member of the newly formed 10-member council which also includes the police chief and military figures.
Burhan named as the council’s deputy Mohammad Hamdan Daglo, who is also known as Himeidti, field commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) counter-insurgency unit, which rights groups have accused of abuses in war-torn Darfur.
A photograph published by state news agency SUNA had shown Burhan talking with protesters outside army headquarters on Friday, before his elevation to the top job.
Khartoum erupted with joy when Ibn Ouf tendered his resignation on Friday night barely 24 hours after taking the oath of office.
But protest organizers urged demonstrators to keep up their week-old vigil outside army headquarters.
Ibn Ouf had served as Bashir’s defense minister right up to the president’s downfall, ending three decades of iron-fisted rule.
A former military intelligence chief, Ibn Ouf remains under US sanctions for his role in the regime’s brutal response to a 2003 ethnic minority rebellion in Darfur region.
Bashir himself came to power in a 1989 Islamist military coup, toppling an elected government led by Sadiq al-Mahdi.
Burhan comes with less baggage from Bashir’s deeply unpopular rule than Ibn Ouf.
The grass-roots Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) composed of doctors, teachers and engineers, has spearheaded the nationwide protests.
While welcoming Ibn Ouf’s departure, it demanded that Burhan swiftly “transfer the powers of the military council to a transitional civilian government” and said it would continue to stage sit-ins to that end.
‘Violating the constitution’
Bashir remained in custody and his National Congress Party on Saturday urged the military council to release arrested members.
“We consider (the) taking of power by the military council as violating the constitution’s legitimacy,” the NCP said in a statement.
“The NCP rejects the detention of its leaders, among them its acting president” Ahmed Harun, it added, calling for their immediate release.
Outside the Middle East, the formation of a military government to replace Bashir has met with widespread criticism.
The African Union said Bashir’s overthrow by the military was “not the appropriate response to the challenges facing Sudan and the aspirations of its people”.
The Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) called for dialogue and a peaceful transition of power, in a joint statement from their summit in Ndjamena, Chad.
The European Union urged the army to carry out a “swift” handover to civilian rule, and former colonial ruler Britain said that the two-year transition announced by the military “is not the answer.”
“We need to see a swift move to an inclusive, representative, civilian leadership,” said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
But Saudi Arabia backed the transitional military council and promised an aid package including, wheat, medicine and “petroleum products”, the Saudi Press Agency reported Saturday.
Members of the military council have sought to reassure foreign diplomats about its intentions.
“This is not a military coup, but taking the side of the people,” the council’s political chief Lieutenant General Omar Zain al-Abdin told Arab and African diplomats at a meeting broadcast on state television on Friday.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has longstanding arrest warrants against Bashir for suspected genocide and war crimes during the regime’s brutal campaign of repression in Darfur.
But the military council has said it would never extradite him or any other Sudanese citizen.