Protesters in Sudan started a two-day general strike on Tuesday to pile pressure on the ruling army to hand over power to a civilian government.
The strike left hundreds of airline passengers stranded at Khartoum airport on Tuesday morning after opposition group Alliance for Freedom and Change requested Sudanese pilots to participate.
Leaders of the umbrella protest movement and army generals who seized power after ousting President Omar al-Bashir last month, have so far failed to iron out differences over who should lead a new governing body – a civilian or soldier.
“The response to the call for a strike has been better than we expected,” Siddiq Farukh, a leader of the protest movement, told AFP news agency on Monday.
“The two-day strike aims to deliver a message to the whole world that the Sudanese people want a real change and they don’t want the power to be with the military,” he added.
The new governing body is expected to install a transitional civilian government, which in turn would prepare for the first post-al-Bashir elections after a three-year interim period ends.
The deputy head of the Transitional Military Council, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who goes by the nickname Hemeti, said on Monday that the council was ready to hand over power swiftly.
Hemeti accused the opposition of not being serious about sharing power and wanted to confine the military to a ceremonial role.
“By God, their slogans cheated us. I swear we were honest with them 100 percent,” Hemeti said at a dinner with police.
“That’s why, by God Almighty, we will not hand this country except to safe hands.”
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said it is not clear whether this latest round of strikes will pressure the military to return to the negotiating table.
“The military council, even before the strikes started this morning, have been voicing concerns about its impact. They said they will not accept people to go on strike. They said those who do follow the opposition’s call and go on strike will be suspended. We are yet to hear from them today,” Morgan said.
“The opposition is hoping that they will be able to put enough pressure on the military to make them return to the negotiating table. Whether that will happen remains to be seen,” she added.
Protest leaders said medics, lawyers, prosecutors, employees in the electricity and water sectors, public transport, railways, telecommunication and civil aviation were set to participate in the strike.
They had earlier said that the strike in the telecommunications and aviation sectors would not affect operations.
But the protest movement’s plan has been dealt a blow after a key member, the National Umma Party, said it opposed the strike plan as there had been no unanimous decision over it.
“We have to avoid such escalated measures that are not fully agreed,” the party said on Sunday.
Umma and its chief Sadiq al-Mahdi have for decades been the main opponents of al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule.
The party threw its weight behind the protest movement after nationwide demonstrations erupted against al-Bashir in December.
Mahdi’s elected government was toppled by al-Bashir in a coup in 1989.
In a recent interview with AFP, Mahdi warned protesters not to “provoke” the army rulers as they had been instrumental in al-Bashir’s removal.
Protester Hazar Mustafa said a civilian government was the only solution to Sudan’s problems.
“We see the military council as part of the former regime. We don’t see it upholding any rights and building a just state,” she said.
Ahead of the strike, the chief of the ruling military council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo have been touring Khartoum’s regional allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The oil-rich Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with Egypt, are seen as backing the generals even as the United States leads Western calls to swiftly establish civilian rule in the country.
Meanwhile, hundreds of passengers were stranded at Khartoum airport as scores of employees at the facility went on strike. Many employees carried banners or wore badges that read “We are on strike”.
Sudanese airlines Badr, Tarco and Nova suspended flights on Tuesday, although some international flights were still scheduled.
Passengers were also stranded at Khartoum’s main bus terminal as hundreds of employees observed the strike.
“I have to travel to Gadaref to be with my family for Eid, but I’m not angry as I understand the reason for the strike,” traveller Fatima Omar said as she waited with her children at the bus terminal.