KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Sudan’s military rulers transferred ousted President Omar al-Bashir to a prison in the country’s capital as hundreds of people marched Wednesday to a sit-in outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, calling for a quick handover of power to a civilian leadership.
The significance of the transfer of al-Bashir, who was ousted last week by the military after four months of street protests against his 30-year rule, was not immediately clear.
The military has said it would not extradite him to the International Criminal Court to face charges of war crimes and genocide in the region of Darfur, but would instead put him on trial at home. However, it did not rule out that a subsequent civilian government could someday hand over al-Bashir to the ICC. A pariah in many countries, there are few options for the ousted president.
While moving al-Bashir to a prison may reflect the military giving in to one of the protesters’ demands, it could also be an attempt to get him away from the proximity of the street protests underway outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, where he had been held since the dramatic events of last week.
A former Sudanese minister told The Associated Press that al-Bashir had remained “under house arrest” at the presidential residence inside the army headquarters’ compound, a location the military described earlier as a “safe place.”
He was moved to Koper Prison late Tuesday, according to the ex-minister. A military official confirmed the statement. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters. Ironically, Koper is where political prisoners were held under al-Bashir.
Amnesty International urged Sudan’s military to ensure that he and other detainees “are protected from torture and other ill-treatment” in the wake of the coup.
Meanwhile, hundreds joined a march by doctors and health workers toward the sit-in outside the army headquarters, which has become the epicenter of Sudan’s popular uprising.
Many wore white coats, waved Sudanese flags and chanted: “Freedom, peace, justice and the revolution is the people’s choice.”
Aya Abdel Aziz, a 22-year-old medical student, said she decided to join the march, which started from the University of Khartoum, to press for women’s rights as well as handover of power to the people.
“Our demand is that women have representation in the transitional civilian council,” she said.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, which is behind the protests, called on the military council to hand over power to a transitional civilian government that would rule for four years. The group fears that the army, dominated by al-Bashir appointees, will cling to power or select one of its own to succeed him.
Also Wednesday, Uganda’s deputy foreign minister, Henry Okello Oryem, said Uganda “can consider” giving al-Bashir asylum if he wants it.
Oryem, who did not address the fact that al-Bashir is in custody, said the ousted Sudanese president had played a crucial role in efforts to achieve peace in neighboring South Sudan, which declared independence from Sudan in 2011 following decades of civil war.
Al-Bashir is one of the guarantors of the fragile peace deal between South Sudan’s warring factions. For years, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, had a difficult relationship with al-Bashir, who was accused of supporting rebels opposed to Uganda’s government.
After South Sudan’s independence, which Museveni supported, the two appeared to reconcile, and Museveni has criticized the ICC for indicting al-Bashir.
In Sudan, rebels fighting government forces declared a unilateral, three-month cease-fire Wednesday in areas under their control in the country’s southern Blue Nile state.
Abdelal-Aziz Adam al-Hilu, head of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the south, said the cease-fire was a “gesture of goodwill,” aimed at giving the military a “chance for a peaceful and quick transfer of power to civilians.”
Fighting in the Blue Nile state has been raging for years between al-Bashir’s government forces and the rebels, who were left on the northern side of the border after South Sudan’s independence.
At the United Nations, the joint U.N.-African Union envoy in Darfur, Jeremiah Mamabolo, told the Security Council that al-Bashir’s ouster has sparked violence in the vast western region by people displaced during its long conflict and other protesters.
The violence included arson attacks on the premises of al-Bashir’s security service and his party’s offices, as well as houses of community leaders “perceived to have collaborated with the previous regime,” Mamabolo said Wednesday.
There was also violence in the Kalma camp, housing thousands of people who fled the fighting in Darfur and clashes between youth groups on Saturday led to the reported death of 15 displaced people, he said.
Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that Blue Nile state is in southern Sudan, not northern.