Sudan’s defense minister stepped down abruptly on Friday as head of the country’s transitional ruling military council after only a day in the post, as protesters demanded quicker political change following President Omar al-Bashir’s ouster by the armed forces.
Hours after the military council sought to calm public anger by promising a new civilian government, Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf said in a televised speech he was quitting as head of the council.
Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdelrahman will be the new head of the council, Ibn Auf said. The deputy head of the transitional military council, Bashir’s former Chief of Staff Kamal Abdelmarouf al-Mahi, was also relieved of his position.
“In order to ensure the cohesion of the security system, and the armed forces in particular, from cracks and strife, and relying on God, let us begin this path of change,” Ibn Auf said.
News of the change sparked joyful celebrations by many thousands in the streets of Khartoum as people chanted, “The second has fallen!” in reference to Bashir, witnesses said.
“What happened is a step in the right direction and is a bow to the will of the masses, and we have become closer to victory,” said Rashid Saeed, a spokesman for the main protest group, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA).
“We are committed to our demands that we submitted to the army,” he said. “We call on the masses to stay on the streets until all the demands are met.”
The military council said earlier that it expected a pre-election transition to last two years at most or much less if chaos can be avoided. But protests quickly resumed on Thursday, calling for quicker and more substantial change.
Several thousand protesters remained in front of the defense ministry compound, and in other parts of the capital, as a nighttime curfew went into effect.
Protest organizers have vowed not to end their street action until a civilian transitional council is formed, saying rule by military commanders who for years were al-Bashir loyalists is just an extension of his regime.
Bashir, 75, himself seized power in a 1989 military coup. He had faced 16 weeks of demonstrations sparked by rising food costs, high unemployment and increasing repression during his three decades of autocratic rule.
Ibn Auf was Bashir’s vice president and defense minister and is among a handful of Sudanese commanders whom Washington imposed sanctions on over their alleged role during atrocities committed in the Darfur conflict that began in 2003.
Ibn Auf said on Thursday that the former president was being detained in a “safe place.” Sudanese sources told Reuters he was at the presidential residence under heavy guard.
The council said on Friday it would not extradite Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, over accusations of genocide in Darfur during the insurgency that led to the death of an estimated 300,000 people. He denies the allegations.
World powers, including the United States and Britain, said they supported a peaceful and democratic transition sooner than two years. China said it would continue to seek cooperation with Sudan regardless of the political situation.