Sudanese police fire teargas as crowd demands Bashir resign

Reuters

* Anger over corruption and cutting of subsidies

* Biggest protests for years in Khartoum and twin city

* Interior minister says about 600 arrested

By Khalid Abdelaziz and Ulf Laessing

KHARTOUM, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Police fired teargas on Fridayto disperse thousands of Sudanese demanding that President OmarHassan al-Bashir step down, a day after clashes in which rightsgroups accused security forces of shooting dead at least 50people.

Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 coup, has not faced thesort of Arab Spring uprising that unseated autocratic rulers from Tunisia to Yemen since 2011, but anger has risen overcorruption and rising inflation in the vast African country.

On Friday more than 5,000 people demonstrated after prayersin the biggest protests for many years in the Khartoum area.

At least two people were killed and more than 300 wounded,among them 111 policemen, a health ministry official toldal-Shorooq television.

Angered by a police crackdown on protests against theslashing of fuel subsidies, about 3,000 took to the streets inKhartoum's twin city Omdurman, across the Nile, shouting"Freedom! Freedom!" and demanding a change of government.

Defying a heavy security presence, the crowd marched to thecentral market, holding banners saying "No, No to priceincreases!" Police fired teargas, sending some protestersrunning for cover. But most remained, some hurling stones at thepolice and others torching cars.

More than 2,000 people demonstrated in Khartoum's northernBahri district, a hot spot for days, and in other areas,witnesses said. Police also used teargas in those areas.

Bashir, has remained in power for almost 25 years despitearmed rebellions, U.S. trade sanctions, an economic crisis, anattempted coup last year and an indictment from theInternational Criminal Court for war crimes in the westernDarfur region. He still enjoys support from the army, his rulingparty and wealthy Sudanese with extensive business interests.

The United States accused the Sudanese authorities of usingexcessive force and expressed alarm at reports that thegovernment had arrested or detained activists and restrictedaccess to the Internet and mobile telephone networks.

"The United States condemns the Government of Sudan's brutalcrackdown on protesters in Khartoum, including the excessive useof force against civilians that has reportedly resulted indozens of casualties," said State Department spokeswoman JenPsaki.

Sudan rejected the statement and summoned the U.S. charged'affaires to protest against the United States' failure toissue Bashir a visa to attend the U.N. General Assembly takingplace this week in New York, the Foreign Ministry said.

ARMED PRESENCE

In Khartoum's centre, army trucks mounted with anti-aircraftguns, usually only deployed in strife-torn regions such asDarfur, were stationed in the street.

More than 100 soldiers, policemen and plain-clothes agentspatrolled the government district on the banks of the Nile.

Authorities closed the bureau of Al Arabiya televisionstation after complaining about its coverage of protests, theDubai-based station said on its website.

They also shut down the office of Abu Dhabi-based newschannel Sky News Arabia, banned its correspondent from workingand confiscated its equipment, the station said.

The government has put pressure on local newspapers only touse official statements. At least two papers have stoppedpublished in protest, editors said.

Sudanese officials dismissed the protests as insignificant.

"What happened today in Khartoum is limited. No more than2,000 people took part in the protests," said Fateh Hassanal-Mahdi, spokesman for Bashir's National Congress Party. "Thisis insignificant compared to Khartoum's 7 million inhabitants."

Authorities arrested about 600 people suspected of violentriots and vandalism, Interior Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamadtold state news agency SUNA. Trials for 100 "saboteurs" wouldstart next week.

Protesters torched cars and petrol stations on Wednesday.Activists have blamed government agents for some of the damage.

DISPUTED DEATH TOLL

The latest round of unrest began on Monday after thegovernment announced another set of fuel subsidy cutbacks,causing pump prices to almost double overnight.

The cuts have been driven by a severe financial crunch sincethe secession of oil-producing South Sudan in 2011, whichdeprived Khartoum of three-quarters of the crude output itrelied on for state revenues and food imports.

With Friday's two dead the official death toll stood at 31.Among those killed was Salah Sanhuri, a doctor who was shot deadduring a protest, relatives told Reuters. His family has close ties and joint business interests with the government.

Amnesty International and the New York-based African Centerfor Justice and Peace Studies said at least 50 people had beenkilled by gun shots to the chest or head by Thursday night,citing witnesses, relatives, doctors and journalists.

Among the dead was a 14-year-old boy, while most othervictims seemed to be between 19 and 26 years old, the groupssaid in a statement.

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