Khartoum - Sudan hopes that a landmark peace treaty signed on Saturday will help turn a corner on decades of conflict in one of Africa’s largest countries.

The partly desert nation sits between the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

Military coups 

Sudan gained independence in 1956 after a period of joint rule by Britain and Egypt.It has a mainly Muslim population of 42.8 million, according to 2019 figures from the World Bank.

Arabic is the official language and Islamic Sharia law was put in force in 1983, before being put on hold and then applied again under the regime of Omar al-Bashir.

From June 1989 to April 2019, Sudan was led by Bashir, a career soldier who swept to power in a military coup backed by Islamists.

Bashir was elected president in 2010 in the country’s first multi-party election since taking power, and re-elected in 2015. The opposition boycotted both votes.

Unrest broke out in 2013 after petrol prices skyrocketed and security forces killed dozens of protesters.

Demonstrations against food price hikes erupted in early 2018 and again in December after the cost of bread tripled.

The protests continued for nearly four months and dozens were killed in the violence, before the army on April 11, 2019 removed Bashir from power.

On July 17, after three months of protests and dozens of deaths, military and protest leaders signed an accord on a three-year transition to civilian rule.

Bashir has since been convicted of graft and is now on trial over the 1989 coup that brought him to power.

South Sudan breaks away 

Sudan endured a first civil war from 1955 to 1972, while a second lasted from 1983 to 2005. Millions died in the conflicts.

In 2005, Khartoum signed a peace treaty with southern rebels, granting the south autonomy pending a referendum on independence in 2011.

South Sudan proclaimed its independence in July 2011, six months after voting by 99 percent to secede.

The split removed roughly a quarter of Sudan’s territory. Before then it had been Africa’s largest country.

In early 2012, relations with South Sudan deteriorated. Their armies clashed in oil-rich border zones.