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Monday, 09 December 2019

Protesters rally in Sudan capital in support of detainees

AFP , Thursday 7 Feb 2019
Sudan
Protests in Sudan (Photo: AP)
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Hundreds of Sudanese protesters rallied Thursday in Khartoum in support of fellow demonstrators detained in the weeks of rallies against President Omar al-Bashir's iron-fisted rule, witnesses said.

The latest protest came after Bashir acknowledged that Sudan's controversial public order law and growing economic hardships had angered youths and sent them out into the streets.

But the veteran leader said on Thursday that "enemies of Sudan" were funding a media campaign that backed the demonstrators.

The rally was called to express solidarity with the hundreds of demonstrators who have been arrested since anti-government demonstrations erupted in December.

The protesters returned to the downtown area of the capital, chanting their campaign's rallying cry of "freedom, peace, justice," witnesses said.

For almost two weeks a security clampdown had prevented them from converging on the capital's downtown area.

"Bring all your soldiers but today you will fall," chanted the protesters, witnesses said, adding that riot police swiftly confronted them with tear gas.

"The authorities thought we won't be able to reach downtown," a demonstrator told AFP without giving his name for security reasons.

"It has been difficult, but today we have managed to do it."

Protesters also staged rallies in the capital's eastern neighbourhood of Burri and some other areas in Khartoum, witnesses said.

Video footages and photographs were swiftly uploaded on social media networks, some showing protesters being taken away by security agents in their vehicles.

- 'Enemies of Sudan' -
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) which has led the protest movement called Thursday's demonstrations specifically in support of the detainees who it says are being "tortured".

Last week, a teacher from the eastern state of Kassala, Ahmed al-Kheir, died in detention after he was arrested in connection with the protests, a relative told AFP.

On January 29, the chief of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), Salah Ghosh, ordered the release of all detainees, but it is unclear how many have been actually freed.

On Wednesday, Bashir ordered the release of detained journalists but it was unclear whether they have been freed.

Bashir, 75, acknowledged that youths, mainly women, were leading the rallies and said the public order law was "one of the reasons" for their anger.

Activists say the decades-old law targets mainly women, often accusing them of "indecent dressing and immoral behaviour".

Hefty punishments including fines and jail terms are imposed on women found guilty under the legislation.

According to some Sudanese women's rights groups, more than 15,000 women were sentenced to flogging in 2016.

Bashir, who swept to power in a 1989 Islamist-backed coup, said the harsh economic conditions in Sudan, such as high inflation, were also driving the protests.

But on Thursday, he told political groups which had participated in a national dialogue in 2014 that unnamed "enemies of Sudan have financed a media campaign" that backed the demonstrators.

Protesters said they were demonstrating for a complete change in the country.

"It's not only the public order law that we are against," said Tahani, a female protester who asked not to be fully named.

"Once we overthrow the regime, we will change the old laws completely with new laws that respect the dignity and diversity of the Sudanese people."

Protests first erupted on December 19 after a government decision to raise the price of bread.

But they quickly turned into nationwide rallies against Bashir's three-decade-old rule, with protesters calling for his resignation.

Officials say 30 people have died in protest-related violence, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 people have been killed in clashes with security forces.

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