AU envoy: Sudan military, protesters to sign political deal

Sudanese people celebrate in the streets of Khartoum after ruling generals and protest leaders announced they have reached an agreement on the disputed issue of a new governing body on Friday, July 5, 2019. The deal raised hopes it will end a three-month political crisis that paralyzed the country and led to a violent crackdown that killed scores of protesters.

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — A transition agreement between Sudan's ruling military council and a pro-democracy coalition was scheduled to be signed Saturday, a top African Union diplomat said, just hours after the military claimed it thwarted an attempted coup by a group of officers.

The AU's Mohammed el-Hassan Labat made the announcement Friday. The transition agreement sets up a joint Sovereign Council that will rule for a little over three years while elections are organized.

Ethiopian mediator Mahmoud Dirir, who has been involved in mediating between the two sides, told reporters that the political declaration will be "debated on, discussed and signed at the same time."

The deal is meant to break the political deadlock that has gripped the country following the overthrow of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in April.

Lt. Gen. Gamal Omar, a member of Sudan's military council, said the coup attempt took place late Thursday, just days after the military and the pro-democracy coalition had agreed to the joint sovereign council.

In a statement, Omar said at least 16 active and retired military officers were arrested. Security forces were pursuing the group's leader and additional officers who took part in plotting the coup attempt, he said, but the council did not reveal the name of the attempted leader, his rank or other details.

"The attempted coup came in a critical time, ahead of the deal with the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change," Omar said, referring to the coalition of political groups that speaks for the pro-democracy demonstrators.

Earlier this week, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan told the pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the ruling military council has thwarted several military coup attempts and that investigations were underway to determine who were behind them.

Tarek Abdel Meguid, an FDFC leader, voiced skepticism about the military's announcement of a failed coup, calling it a hoax meant to pressure pro-democracy forces into signing the deal.

"They want to say that the situation in Sudan is very volatile, and that there is a deep state with people capable of staging a military coup, so we should hurry up and sign and leave any points of difference to be discussed later," Abdel Meguid told the Associated Press.

Last week, the military and FDFC representatives announced that they had reached a power-sharing agreement amid robust African and international pressure.

A military leader is to head the council for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for the next 18. They also agreed on an independent Sudanese investigation into the deadly crackdown by security forces on the protests last month — though it's unclear if anyone will be held accountable. The military also agreed to restore the internet after a weekslong blackout.

The political transition deal is meant to end the impasse between the military council and the protest movement since security forces razed a massive pro-democracy sit-in in Khartoum early last month, killing more than 100 people, according to protest organizers. A committee of legal experts was assigned to draft the details before it would be handed over for both parties to sign.

The signing ceremony was expected to take place earlier this week, but several delays were announced, raising suspicions the two parties might still be divided over the agreement's details. Several pro-democracy activists and party leaders had said the transitional military council was seeking to alter some of the language to increase the mandate of the generals during the transitional period.

Rasha Awad, editor of the online Sudanese newspaper Altaghyeer, said the military council's actions will determine what happens next.

"I believe that the FDFC had already made a lot of concessions in this deal, but it seems that the military still expects more from them. If the military insists on that, the signing will be delayed further," she said.

Awad also concurred that the announcement of a failed coup might be a ruse to use against the pro-democracy movement. But she did not rule out the possibility that the remnants of Bashir's regime within the state might be plotting a comeback through a military coup.

"Counterrevolutionary forces represented in the old Islamist regime are very active now," she said.

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ElHennawy reported from Cairo.

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