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Sudan demonstrators riot in capital over subsidies

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A firefighter removes debris at the scene of a fire at a popular market in Khartoum, Sudan, 29 September 2013. Sudan vowed to stand firm on its decision to hike fuel prices, despite days of deadly protests. (EPA/MORWAN ALI)

Deadly fuel protest in Sudan

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- Sudanese security forces on Wednesday fired tear gas to disperse dozens of protesters who demonstrated and torched a police station in northern Khartoum, where at least two people have died in three days of rioting over the lifting of fuel subsidies.

Officials condemned the protests as acts of sabotage, describing them as "premeditated."

Wednesday's protests took place in several areas of Kadro district, 15 miles from the capital's city center, where protesters blocked roads using lengths of pipe and burning tires. They also attacked a police station.

The riots that began in the state of Gezira, south of Khartoum, have turned into a call for the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled the country for more than two decades. The rioting started after Sudan's Council of Ministers decided to lift the subsidies, immediately doubling prices of gasoline and fuel.

The semiofficial Sudan Media Center on Wednesday quoted Gezira governor Al-Zubair Bashir Taha as saying that aside from police stations, riots there targeted power and gas stations, banks, shops and private property. Police are tracking down the "saboteurs," he said.

A day earlier, his deputy, Mohammed al-Kamil Fadallah said the civilians killed in violence in the regional capital of Wad Medani were a student and a bus driver in their early 20s.

The SMC also quoted the deputy head of the Sudanese parliament, Samiya Ahmed Mohammed, as saying she hopes the "opposition understands the measures with objectivity."

She also criticized the government for not implanting the measures "gradually" and expressed support for peaceful protests but rejected "acts of sabotage" to state institutions.

Sudan's lost most of its main oil-producing territory when South Sudan broke off as an independent state in 2011. In November last year, The International Monetary Fund had urged Sudan to cut fuel subsidies, pointing out that in 2011 they amounted to more than three-quarters of the fragile economy's tax revenues.

An initial attempt by the government to cut subsidies sparked similar protests but they were quelled by a heavy crackdown on protesters, activists and journalists.

Al-Bashir is wanted by International Criminal Court for alleged crimes linked to the conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur where an estimated 300,000 people have died since 2003 due to fighting between government-backed tribes and rebels.

Al-Bashir received an invitation to attend the U.N. General Assembly and applied for a visa to enter the U.S. The State Department said Washington received a visa request but that before going to U.N. headquarters, al-Bashir should present himself to the ICC.

Sudan condemned Washington's response, and Sudan's Foreign Ministry said the U.S. is "not qualified ... to offer sermons and advice" on international law and human rights. Sudan's statement also criticized U.S. support for Israel, and called on Washington to swiftly grant al-Bashir a visa.