By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s military rulers and the main opposition coalition initialed a constitutional declaration on Sunday, paving the way for a transitional government following the overthrow of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir.
The two sides reached agreement on Saturday on the shape of a transitional government in lengthy negotiations since Bashir’s overthrow by the army in April.
The parties are expected to put their final signatures on the agreement on Aug. 17 at a ceremony in Khartoum attended by foreign leaders.
Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region by the International Criminal Court, was deposed after months of mass protests. Continuing unrest, during which dozens of demonstrators were killed, has plunged Sudan into turmoil.
Sunday’s formalities were attended by African Union and Ethiopian mediators, who had helped broker the accord. Those present in the room clapped and cheered as army and civilian representatives held up copies of the agreement.
Hundreds celebrated in the streets, dancing, chanting revolutionary songs, waving national flags and sounding horns.
“Today, the civilian state is achieved,” said Nusseibeh Abdullah, a 21-year-old woman.
One of Sudan’s top generals, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is deputy head of the Transitional Military council that will be superseded by the interim government, said the agreement was a victory for Sudan.
“We have finally agreed on a constitutional document that will change the course of history for our country,” he said.
Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, 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.
Despite the optimism, some have cautioned that it is still too early to tell how events will unfold in the lengthy transition period required to prepare for elections after three decades of autocratic rule under Bashir.
“It is not the first time that Sudan signed some sort of agreement to resolve very difficult political questions,” said Magdi el-Gizouli, a Sudanese academic and a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute.
But he added: “I think if there is reason for optimism, the reason is not in the negotiation rooms, the reason is in this popular movement that doesn’t want to go away.”
Ethiopian mediator Mahmoud Dirir said the agreement “establishes civilian and democratic rule that seeks to build a state of law, a state of equality, a state which does not marginalize its citizens”.
The agreement was welcomed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of which see themselves as influential in Khartoum. Sudanese troops are currently operating in Yemen as part of a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Houthi rebels.
According to a document seen by Reuters, the formation of a sovereign council, which will run the country during a three-year transitional period leading up to elections, will be announced on Aug. 18.
A new prime minister will be named on Aug. 20 and a cabinet on Aug. 28. The cabinet and the sovereign council will meet together on Sept. 1, ahead of the appointment of a legislative assembly in three months.
The 300-member assembly will serve during the transitional period. The main opposition coalition, the Forces of Freedom and Change, will have 67% of its seats and other political groups not associated with Bashir will have the rest.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum, Writing by Mahmoud Mourad and Giles Elgood, Editing by David Evans, Angus MacSwan and Alexandra Hudson)