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Protesters celebrate as Sudan's spy chief quits | World news

Category: Political Protests,Politics

The protest movement in Sudan has won a series of fresh victories, with the country’s powerful military moving to replace the controversial transitional leader and spy chief following street rallies demanding officials linked to the former regime stand down.

Salih Ghosh, who led a sweeping crackdown against demonstrators over recent months, resigned on Saturday, a communique from the new military-led transitional council said.

Less than 24 hours earlier, thousands of jubilant protesters celebrated in the streets after the defence minister, Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, who was named de facto leader after overthrowing Omar al-Bashir on Thursday, announced he was stepping down. He named another, less controversial army general as his successor.

Ghosh has led the feared National Intelligence and Security Service since early last year – his second term in the post. Scores have died and hundreds have been injured by Niss and pro-Bashir paramilitaries in recent months. Thousands were detained, many of whom were tortured.

The twin resignations may not be enough to satisfy pro-democracy campaigners, who have called for civilian government and widespread reforms. Observers nonetheless describe the move by the army as a positive sign of sincerity in statements that senior officers wanted a “dialogue” with protesters.

Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf and Omar al-Bashir
Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, left, had been named de facto leader after overthrowing Omar al-Bashir. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

But campaigners said on Saturday they opposed any attempt to “reproduce the Bashir regime” and any decisions of any new authority that did not meet the aspirations of the Sudanese people for “freedom, democracy and peace”.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, which has organised much of the protest and formulated demands, said it wanted “the transfer of power to a civilian transitional government in which the army participates but [does] not rule and lead”.

Protests erupted on 19 December in the eastern city of Atbara after a government decision to triple the price of bread, but quickly evolved into nationwide demonstrations against Bashir’s rule.

The situation escalated dramatically a week ago, when thousands of demonstrators began a sit-in outside the defence ministry compound in central Khartoum. Five days later, the army stepped in to remove Bashir, who had been in power since 1989.

Auf said he would be replaced by Gen Abdel Fattah Burhan, the general inspector of the armed forces, as head of the transitional council, which has said it will rule the country for two years until elections.

“I am confident he will steer the ship to safe shores,” he said of Burhan, adding that he was stepping aside to “preserve unity” of the armed forces.

Organisations leading the protesters have said the demonstrations will continue and thousands remained at their makeshift encampment in central Khartoum overnight from Friday to Saturday, in defiance of an overnight curfew imposed by the military.

An association of Sudanese doctors said 26 people had died and more than 150 had been injured – 15 critically – since the sit-in began. Five of the dead were soldiers who were killed protecting the demonstrators during attacks by pro-Bashir militias.

What's happening in Sudan? – video explainer

Police officials said at least 16 people had been killed and 20 injured by stray bullets at protests and sit-ins on Thursday and Friday.

There were reports of exchanges of gunfire near the sit-in site, possibly between members of militias or the intelligence service and the army.

Protesters at the site chanted: “We won’t leave until the National Intelligence and Security Service is gone.”

Auf was a controversial figure, blacklisted by Washington for his role as the army’s head of military intelligence and security during the Darfur conflict. He has been defence minister since 2015 and was promoted in February by Bashir to the role of first vice-president.

The US imposed sanctions on him in 2007 for arming and directing pro-government militias in Darfur known as the Janjaweed, accused of widespread atrocities against civilians and rapes during the conflict.

His appointment was seen by protesters as evidence there had been no real change following Bashir’s fall.

General Abdel Fattah Burhan Abdulrahman taking an oath
Gen Abdel Fattah Burhan takes the oath. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Burhan’s record appears to be cleaner than the rest of Bashir’s generals and he is not known to be implicated in war crimes or wanted by international courts. He was one of the generals who went to meet protesters at the encampment near the military headquarters and listened to their views.

Chants rang out across the sit-in, where tens of thousands have been rallying in front of the military headquarters to protest against the military takeover of power after Bashir’s removal. “Revolutionaries, we will continue our path,” the protesters shouted as they danced and clapped.

Earlier another senior officer, Omar Zein Abedeen, had told reporters during a televised press conference that Bashir, 75, would not be extradited to face genocide and war crimes charges relating to the conflict in Sudan at the international criminal court (ICC), as doing so would be “an ugly mark on Sudan.”

Zein Abedeen said Sudanese courts would hold Bashir “accountable”, but did not specify what charges he could face. After his arrest, the military denounced the former leader and his government for corruption, maladministration and “lack of justice”.

The move underscores the limits on the reach of the ICC.

Bashir was one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. His long rule has left Sudan’s economy in a dire state, with shortages of cash, soaring inflation and very high levels of unemployment.

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