* Protest crowds swell into the hundreds of thousands* Wary protesters demand quick handover to civilians
* Sudan's military says it's not greedy for power
* Military says post-Bashir transition could be short
Sudan's ruling military council on Friday promised a new civilian government, a day after the armed forces overthrew President Omar al-Bashir, but the gesture was immediately rejected by mistrustful protest leaders.
The council, which is now running Sudan under Defence Minister Mohammed Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, said it expects a pre-election transition period it announced on Thursday to last two years at most, or much less if chaos can be avoided.
The council also announced that it would not extradite Bashir to face accusations of genocide at the international war crimes court. Instead he might go on trial in Sudan.
Friday's announcement of a future civilian government by the head of the military council's political committee, General Omar Zain al-Abideen, appeared aimed at reassuring mistrustful demonstrators who went back into the streets to warn against imposing army rule after Bashir's ouster.
But the main protest group dismissed the pledge, saying the military council was "not capable of creating change". In a statement, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) restated its demand for power to be handed immediately to "a transitional civilian government".
Bashir, 75, himself seized power in a 1989 military coup. He had faced 16 weeks of demonstrations sparked by rising food costs, high unemployment and increasing repression during his three decades of autocratic rule.
Worshippers packed the streets around the Defence Ministry for Friday prayers, despite high temperatures, witnesses said, heeding a call by the SPA to challenge the military council.
The numbers swelled in the afternoon and a Reuters witness said hundreds of thousands of protesters were estimated to have thronged areas around the ministry, which was guarded by soldiers.
"We do not reject a military council in principle, but we reject these people because they are from Bashir's regime," said Abdelhamid Ahmed, a 24-year-old doctor at the sit-in.
Zain al-Abideen vowed that the military council would not interfere with a civilian government. However he said the defence and interior Ministries would be under the council's control.
The military council is headed by Ibn Auf, who was Bashir's vice president and defence minister and is among a handful of Sudanese commanders sanctioned by Washington for his alleged role during the atrocities committed in the Darfur conflict.
Zain al-Abideen said the military council itself had no solutions to Sudan's crisis and these would come from the protesters, adding that it plans to hold a dialogue with them.
"We are the protectors of the demands of the people," he said. "We are not greedy for power."
"We will not dictate anything to the people. We want to create an atmosphere to manage a peaceful dialogue," Zain al-Abideen said. "Today, we will hold a dialogue with the political entities to prepare a climate for dialogue."
The council said it did not invite Bashir's National Congress Party to join the dialogue because "it is responsible for what happened".
It pledged to work with the new government to solve Sudan's massive economic problems but warned protesters that the army would not tolerate unrest.
"Protest is guaranteed, but it is forbidden to infringe on the freedom of others. We will be very decisive with whoever closes a road or a bridge," Zain al-Abideen said.
In the early hours of Friday, thousands of demonstrators set themselves down outside the Defence Ministry to push for a civilian government, defying a curfew.
They oppose the decision to set up a transitional military council and have vowed to continue protests until a civilian government is established.
At the Defence Ministry compound, large tents were put up and people brought food and handed out water as the crowd grew. Ahmed al-Sadek, a 39-year-old trader, said he had not slept at his home since the sit-in began on April 6.
Activists wearing yellow vests controlled traffic around the compound on Friday morning and managed foot traffic to and from the sit-in, a Reuters witness said. They also blocked a major bridge in central Khartoum.
World powers, including the United States and Britain, said they supported a peaceful and democratic transition sooner than two years. China said it would continue to seek cooperation with Sudan regardless of the political situation.
Ibn Auf said on Thursday that Bashir was being detained in a "safe place" and the military council would run the country. Sudanese sources told Reuters that Bashir was at the presidential residence under "heavy guard".
Ibn Auf also announced a state of emergency, a nationwide ceasefire and the suspension of the constitution. He further said there would be a curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
But the council affirmed on Friday it would not extradite Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Bashir is facing an arrest warrant over accusations of genocide in Sudan's Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to the death of an estimated 300,000 people. He denies the allegations.
The military council will not hand him over for trial abroad, Zain al-Abideen said. "We may try him, but we will not hand him over."
Bashir's downfall was the second time by a veteran regional leader this month in the face of mass demonstrations. Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, in power since 1999, stepped down on April 2 after six weeks of protests.