KHARTOUM, Sudan: Sudanese protesters held firm on barricades Tuesday, saying they were deeply sceptical of promises by coup leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan a day earlier that the army would make way for civilian rule. Defying the security forces, crowds stayed on the streets of the capital Khartoum, maintaining their months-long protests against the military power grab.

"We don't have confidence in Burhan," said protester Muhammad Othman, perched on a barricade of bricks built across a street. "We just want him to leave once and for all." A day after Burhan's announcement, many protesters were awaiting a response from the main civilian bloc, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), which was ousted from power by the October coup.

The bloc has so far refused to take part in talks with military leaders, launched under international auspices in an effort to restore the transition to civilian rule. Burhan said late Monday the military would no longer participate in the talks facilitated by the United Nations, African Union and the regional IGAD bloc, wanting instead "to make room for political and revolutionary forces and other national factions" to form a civilian government.

The announcement came eight months after the October coup ousted civilians from a transitional administration, sparking widespread international condemnation and aid cuts to the northeast African nation. Security forces-as they have done repeatedly to the long-running protests-sought to break up the crowds by firing barrages of stun grenades and tear gas, according to pro-democracy medics.

'Core grievances remain'

Kholood Khair, of the Khartoum think-tank Insight Strategy Partners, said many protesters believed the military's withdrawal was "a ruse". Sudan, one of the world's poorest countries, has seen only rare interludes of civilian rule. The coup not only worsened a political crisis but has pushed Sudan deeper into a dire economic slump. International actors have been pushing for civilian and military leaders to negotiate a return to the democratic transition they had started after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Hours after his surprise announcement, Burhan on Tuesday flew to Kenya for an IGAD emergency summit of East African leaders, which with the United Nations and AU has been urging for talks between the army and civilians. Khair said he believed Burhan's announcement was made to put "the pressure on the civilians" but warned that it might change little on the ground. "There's no talk of accountability," Khair said, noting that "core grievances remain."

Burhan's televised address came as hundreds of anti-coup demonstrators continued protests. Pro-democracy medics said nine demonstrators lost their lives on Thursday, the deadliest violence so far this year, bringing to 114 the number killed in the crackdown against anti-coup protesters.

On Monday, speaking shortly after Burhan's announcement, protester Oumeima Hussein vowed the army chief must be "judged for all those killed since the coup", and vowed to "topple him like we did to Bashir". Khair warned that protesters feared Burhan was putting "the Islamists back in government", who were dominant under the three-decade rule of Bashir, with military and allied armed groups to "retain economic privileges."

Sudan's military dominates lucrative companies in sectors from agriculture to infrastructure. Burhan said that "the formation of the executive government" will be followed by "the dissolution of the Sovereign Council"-the ruling authority formed under a fragile power-sharing agreement between the army and civilians in 2019.

Also created will be a "Supreme Council of Armed Forces", to be in charge of defence and security. It will combine the regular army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a much feared and powerful unit commanded by Burhan's deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo. - AFP