By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s main opposition coalition and the ruling military council on Saturday signed a final power-sharing deal that paves the way for a transitional government, and eventually elections, following the overthrow of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir.
Tens of thousands of people of all ages took to the streets of the capital Khartoum in celebration, with many heading towards the newly renamed Freedom Square, once the site of many of Bashir’s rallies.
Stability in Sudan, which has been grappling with an economic crisis, is seen as crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya.
One of Sudan’s top generals, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is deputy head of the military council, and opposition alliance representative Ahmad al-Rabie had initialled the agreement on Aug. 4 and were the main signatories on Saturday.
Those in the room clapped and cheered and an orchestra played a patriotic song.
“I invite everyone to make this day a new stage of getting over the bitterness of the past and looking towards the future,” Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the military council, said at the end of the ceremony.
Also present were African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who helped broker the accord, and representatives from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of which see themselves as influential in Khartoum.
“The coming period will be a test for us, no one will be excluded,” said leading opposition figure Sadiq al-Mahdi, Sudan’s last democratically elected premier. “We will open the door to everyone to participate in Sudan’s celebration.”
The Transitional Military Council (TMC) has ruled Sudan since April, when the military deposed Bashir following months of protests against his rule during which dozens of demonstrators were killed.
The TMC and the main opposition alliance, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), have been negotiating the power-sharing deal since then, but continued unrest, during which more protesters were killed, delayed an agreement.
Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), some of whose members have been accused of involvement in killing demonstrators who have repeatedly turned out in huge numbers to press for political progress.
Many people stood outside the RSF headquarters in central Khartoum, playing revolutionary songs and chanting at soldiers. Abdallah Ahmed, 24, said: “We have achieved our civilian government, and we have defeated the Islamists.”
In a speech during the ceremony, Mohammed Nagy Alassam, a leader within the FFC, emphasized the need for an investigation and justice for those who were killed, particularly during the violent dispersal of a protest site in the capital Khartoum on June 3.
“The martyrs are still with us, they are with the revolutionaries,” spectators in the room chanted.
State television showed dozens of people lined up outside the convention centre where the signing ceremony was held, waving Sudanese flags and flashing peace signs in celebration.
A train carrying hundreds of protesters from Atbara, where the uprising began on Dec. 19, arrived in Khartoum in celebration and was met by cheering crowds.
The full make-up of a new sovereign council, which will run Sudan during a three-year transitional period leading up to elections, will be announced on Aug. 18.
But TMC spokesman Shams El Din Kabbashi told Sky News that Burhan, Hemedti, and Lieutenant General Yasser Al-Atta were among those selected.
Under Saturday’s accord, the council will have five members each from the two sides plus a civilian agreed by both. It will name Sudan’s new premier based on a nomination by the FFC.
The agreement also provides for a 300-member legislative assembly to serve during the transitional period, and a cabinet of technocrats.
The main challenge for the new government will be an economic crisis stemming from a shortage of foreign currency, resulting in a cash crunch and long lines for fuel and bread.
“The next period has its challenges: lifting Sudan from the list of so-called state sponsors of terror, the large debts … and lessening the burden on the economy with the support of our brothers and friends,” Mahmud Dirir, Ethiopian mediator in the negotiations, told a press conference.
Sudan’s economy has suffered since South Sudan seceded in 2011, taking the lion’s share of its oil resources. Economists say foreign investors and banks are put off by Sudan’s continued designation by Washington as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Saudi Arabia would continue to assist Sudan, minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir told the press conference.
Bashir is wanted for war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region by the International Criminal Court, and is awaiting trial in Sudan on corruption charges.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum; Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Nadine Awadalla and Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Angus MacSwan and David Holmes)