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Sudan up in smoke: Anti-government protests engulf NE African nation (VIDEO)

Published time: June 24, 2012 00:20
Edited time: June 24, 2012 08:29

Smoke rises from burning tyres during protests in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on June 22, 2012. (AFP Photo/Ian Timbarlake)

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Sudanese police are trying to subdue anti-government demonstrations that have gripped the country for a week. Activists say police used tear gas to disperse protesters, and report crackdowns on opposition members.

Protesters hurled rocks, burned tires and blocked roads before being dispersed by the police in the country’s capital, Khartoum.

In the neighboring city of Omdurman, some 200 demonstrators were scattered by baton-toting and tear gas-firing officers.

On Saturday, the country’s top police chief Hashem Othman al-Hussein ordered security forces to quell the rallies “firmly and immediately” and to confront the “riots” and the groups behind them, the country’s official SUNA news agency reported.

Activists reported other instances of gatherings being promptly broken up by troops. In al-Ubbayid, a provincial capital in the southwest of the country, police reportedly fired tear gas canisters at a group of demonstrators gathered outside a university campus.

State-run radio said authorities were forced to use tear gas after a group of policemen came under attack from some 150 protesters.

The opposition also accused the government of conducting a crackdown on dissidents.

The Ummah party said three of its activists were detained, including Adam Gererir, a member of its political bureau.

The spokesman for the Sudanese Baath Party Mohammed Diaa Eddin was also arrested, party member Siddique Tawer said.

They are afraid of street action,” Tawer said in reference to the state’s actions. “They are trying to terrorize people. They can't stop these protests. They are legitimate, against the government's economic policies, corruption and repression of freedoms.

Mass demonstrations erupted a week ago after the government announced fuel subsidy cuts as part of an austerity plan. Sudan has increasingly found it difficult to make ends meet since oil-rich South Sudan declared its independence a year ago.

The anti-austerity rallies, which originally centered at the University of Khartoum, later spread to other areas of the country. The protesters' demands also shifted from being purely economical to political, with many dissidents going so far as to demand the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1989.

Online videos show demonstrators chanting “We won’t be ruled by a dictator,” and many see the rallies as a continuation of the Arab Spring that toppled long-term North African rulers Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali,  Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak last year.

Amnesty International said scores of demonstrators had been detained since the rallies began.

Nevertheless, the government has been dismissive of the protests.

“The opposition parties have no specific goals,” Badr Eddin Ahmed Ibrahim, a spokesperson for the ruling National Congress Party, noted, as quoted by the semi-official Sudan Media Center. He also stated that the protests were largely led by university students and were used by opposition parties to agitate the government.

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