By Nadine Awadalla and Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudanese demonstrators on Thursday rolled out a banner honouring fallen protesters over a square where ousted president Omar al-Bashir held a large rally in his final months in power, a symbolic move that left some in tears.
Thousands of demonstrators, mostly teenagers and people in their early 20s, joined a rally in the square, which continued to grow into the late afternoon. Protesters said they were renaming it from the Green Square to Freedom Square.
At the top of a two-tier concrete stand where only Bashir and his allies were once allowed to appear, young men covered a giant sign reading “The Green Square” with a banner carrying the words: “Justice first … loyalty to the revolution’s martyrs”.
The protest came as the military council and an alliance of protest and opposition groups work to finalise a power-sharing deal for a three-year transition towards elections.
The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which spearheaded months of protests that led to Bashir’s overthrow in April, has continued to call for rallies against the generals who replaced him as they push for a democratic transition.
Security forces including the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have occasionally cracked down on protests, and in early June crushed a sit-in outside the Defence Ministry, killing dozens.
The SPA said security forces had fired tear gas at a group marching towards the square on Thursday, though in the square itself people protested freely, some of them storming its manager’s office.
The manager, Mohamed Adam Araby, sided with the protesters. “Those in the square are the revolution’s youth. They came for Sudan’s sake, unlike the masses who were paid to come,” he said, in a reference to Bashir supporters bussed in for his speeches.
One group of protesters ran into the square carrying what they said was the boot and broken helmet of an RSF soldier, a Reuters witness said.
They also had a stick, which protesters regularly accuse RSF troops of using to beat people. Raising them high in the air, they sang chants against the paramilitary group.
At least four other RSF helmets were seen being swung in the air by protesters. One young man held a riot police shield and flashed a peace sign.
The RSF grew out of Arab militias accused of carrying out atrocities in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. Its leader, who is also deputy head of the military council, has denied the allegations.
The demonstration caps “Justice first week”, a series of rallies organised by the SPA to demand retribution for those killed at protests.
“Blood for blood! We won’t accept blood money!” protesters chanted.
In January, three months before the military overthrew and detained him, Bashir held a rally in the Green Square, accusing the protest movement of being foreign agents and challenging them to seek power through the ballot box.
Mediators have said negotiations would continue on Friday over a constitutional declaration meant to complete the power-sharing deal.
“I am happy to celebrate here,” Alaa al-Din Babeker, a 24-year-old engineer, told Reuters. “The joy will not be complete unless we win in the constitutional declaration tomorrow.”
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla and Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Aidan Lewis and William Maclean)