Sudanese protesters chant slogans, flash V-for-victory signs and wave the national flag at the sit-in outside the army headquarters in the capital Khartoum on May 14, 2019

Khartoum (AFP) - Sudan’s military rulers on Wednesday suspended crucial talks with protesters on installing civilian rule, insisting that negotiations will resume only after demonstrators remove roadblocks put up in parts of Khartoum, protest leaders said.

The suspension came after at least eight people were reported wounded by gunshots near a sit-in in the capital, shortly before decisive talks were to be held between the ruling military council and the protest leaders on a transitional governing body.

Army generals and protest leaders were expected to finalise the make-up of a new body to govern Sudan for three years, the thorniest issue in installing civilian rule.

But a spokesman for the umbrella protest group, the Alliance for Freedom and Change, said the council had suspended the talks.

“They asked us to dismantle barricades in parts of the capital,” Rashid al-Sayid told AFP, referring to roadblocks put up by demonstrators on key roads in recent days, including on the Nile Street – a key avenue – that had angered the generals.

Sayid said the generals wanted the demonstrators to restrict themselves to the sit-in area.

Two other protest leaders Ahmed al-Rabie and Satea al-Haj also confirmed the military council’s decision. The council itself was not immediately available for comment.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, the group that initially launched the protest campaign against Bashir in December, urged protesters to restrict themselves to the sit-in, and distributed maps of the protest camp to demonstrators.

Some roadblocks were removed from some roads after the SPA directive, an AFP correspondent reported.

Protester Mohamed, who gave only one name, was disappointed.

“The negotiations have been procrastinated and there have been so many assaults on us,” he told AFP at the sit-in in central Khartoum.

Hours before the talks were due to start, the Alliance for Freedom and Change wrote on Facebook that eight people had been wounded by live fire.

A witness told AFP that gunshots had been fired near the sit-in.

The British ambassador to Khartoum said Sudanese security forces had fired at protesters.

“Extremely concerned by use of live ammunition by Sudanese security forces against protesters in Khartoum today, with reports of civilian casualties,” Irfan Siddiq wrote on Twitter.

“Military council must act to stop this now. No more excuses.”

Security forces were seen chasing protesters in downtown Khartoum and removing some roadblocks, an AFP correspondent said.

The protest movement is demanding a civilian-led transition, which the generals have steadfastly resisted since bowing to their demands and toppling longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

The talks that commenced on Monday were marred by violence that left six people dead the same day at the sit-in.

Protest leaders said it was sparked by security forces trying to remove barricades put up by demonstrators on the Nile Street.

- Call to support demo -

After Wednesday’s shootings, the Sudanese Professionals Association urged people to join the thousands of demonstrators at the site.

But it called on people “to restrain themselves, be calm and peaceful and avoid any confrontation or clash with any group whatever the circumstances.”

During the first two days of talks the two sides had agreed on an overall civilian structure, including a three-year transitional period for the full transfer of power to a civilian administration.

They had also agreed that parliament be composed of 300 members for the transition, with 67 percent from the alliance and the rest drawn from other political groups.

Chronology of main developments in mass protests in Sudan.

The United Arab Emirates, widely seen as backing the ruling generals, hailed the agreement on a transitional period.

It “puts Sudan on the road of stability and recovery after years of Bashir and (Muslim) Brotherhood’s dictatorship,” its minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, tweeted.

- Transitional civilian government -

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have offered $3 billion in aid for Sudan.

The composition of the new sovereign council has been the toughest part of the negotiations, with the two sides so far proposing different compositions of the body which is expected to take all key decisions concerning national issues.

The generals want it to be military-led, while the protesters insist on a majority civilian body.

Before the suspension, General Yasser al-Atta, one of the members of the current ruling military council, had vowed to reach a deal by early Thursday that “meets the people’s aspirations”.

The new council is expected to form a transitional civilian government, which would then prepare for the first post-Bashir election after the three-year changeover period ends.

The latest breakthrough in talks between Sudan's ruling military council and protest leaders came after deadly violence at the site of the sit-in

Protest leader Khalid Omar Yousef downplayed the role of the proposed ruling council, insisting Sudan would have a powerful cabinet.

“All powers will be in the cabinet’s hand, which will be formed by the Alliance for Freedom and Change,” he said.

Only the defence and interior ministries would be headed by military figures, he said.

Tensions have soared since Monday’s shootings, which the United States blamed on security forces.

Washington has consistently called on the military council to transfer power to civilians.