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Sudanese military, protesters sign power-sharing document

Sudan's ruling military and the pro-democracy movement have signed a political document that's part of a power-sharing deal meant to end the country's deadlock after weeks of stalled talks.

Signing is a key step in the country's transition after months of street protests

Sudanese deputy head of the ruling military council Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, right, and Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change leader Ahmad al-Rabiah shake hands after inking an agreement before African Union and Ethiopian mediators in Khartoum on Wednesday. (Ebrahim Hamid/AFP/Getty Images)

Sudan's pro-democracy movement and the ruling military council signed a document early Wednesday that outlines a power-sharing deal, but the two sides are still at work on a more contentious constitutional agreement that would specify the division of powers.

The signing ceremony held in the capital, Khartoum, after marathon overnight talks, marks an important step in the transition to civilian rule following the military overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir amid mass protests in April.

But the military appears to have the upper hand following weeks of negotiations and a deadly crackdown last month in which security forces violently dispersed the protesters' main sit-in.

The document signed Wednesday would establish a joint civilian-military sovereign council that would rule Sudan for a little over three years while elections are organized. A military leader will head the 11-member council for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for the next 18.

It marks a significant concession by the protesters, who had demanded an immediate transition to civilian rule. The pro-democracy movement would appoint a cabinet, and the two sides would agree on a legislative body within three months of the start of the transition.

But the two sides have yet to agree on a division of powers between the sovereign council, the cabinet and the legislative body, which would be enshrined in the constitutional document. That document would also set the terms of military leaders' potential immunity from prosecution over last month's violence.

"This is the big hurdle. Sudan's future after al-Bashir will be defined by this constitutional declaration," said Rasha Awad, editor of the online Sudanese newspaper Altaghyeer.

'We have suffered enough'

Protest organizers say security forces killed at least 128 people during last month's crackdown. Authorities put the death toll at 61, including three members of the security forces. The two sides have agreed on a Sudanese investigation into the violence but have yet to outline its scope.

The agreement signed Wednesday at a ceremony broadcast by state TV stems from a meeting last month brokered by the U.S. and Britain, which support the protesters, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which back the military. The diplomatic push ended weeks of stalemate that had raised fears of further violence or even civil war. 

Dagalo, pictured at a rally last Saturday, hailed Wednesday's signing as a 'historic moment in Sudan.' (Mahmoud Hjaj/The Associated Press)

"We are ushering in a new era," Ibrahim al-Amin, a negotiator for the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a broad-based coalition including independent professional unions, traditional political parties and other groups.

"The upcoming government will be a government of all Sudanese, for all citizens.... We have suffered enough from the totalitarian dictatorial regime."

The military was represented by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, who has consolidated power since al-Bashir's overthrow and whose paramilitary Rapid Support Forces are accused of leading last month's crackdown. He hailed the agreement as a "historic moment in Sudan."

'Great moment'

Wednesday's development came after intensive efforts and pressure from regional and international powers. The African Union (AU) and Ethiopia led the diplomatic mediation, following the deadly breakup of the Khartoum protest camp in June.

Ethiopian mediator, Mohamoud Dirir, called it a "great moment for the people of Sudan" and lauded the "united front that represents the gallant army of the Sudan, the transitional military council and, of course, the revolutionary youth, the intellectuals who have taken to the streets to stand for democracy."

African Union and Ethiopian mediators celebrate after Sudan's protesters and ruling generals signed the document that's part of a power-sharing deal that aims to install a civilian administration, a key demand of demonstrators since president Omar al-Bashir was deposed three months ago. (Ebrahim Hamid/AFP/Getty Images)

AU envoy Mohammed el-Hassan Labat said the signing was "a decisive moment." 

The deposed strongman al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years, has been jailed in Khartoum since his ouster. He appeared in public in June for the first time since the military toppled him on April 11, as he was led to a prosecutor's office in a corruption investigation. 

In May, al-Bashir was charged with involvement in killing protesters and incitement to kill protesters during the popular uprising that started in December, initially over price increases of basic goods and a failing economy but which later turned into calls for his ouster. 

He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of war crimes and genocide linked to the Darfur conflict in the 2000s, but the Sudanese military has said it would not extradite him to The Hague. He was the only sitting head of state for whom an international arrest warrant had been issued.

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