Sudan arrests 600 in anti-government protests

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Sudan’s authorities have arrested 600 people for taking part in the week-long protests against the government and President Omar al-Bashir, the interior ministry said on Friday.

The people were “arrested for participating in acts of vandalism and will be judged next week,” a ministry statement said.

Thousands poured into the streets of Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman Friday, the fifth day of protests sparked by the scrapping of fuel subsidies that have turned into an expression of anti-government sentiment, and police used tear gas to disperse them.

New demonstrations broke out Friday evening in eastern districts of the capital, with police again firing tear gas and charging demonstrators, an AFP correspondent said.

In Khartoum's center, there were army trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, which are usually used only in strife-torn regions such as Darfur. More than 100 soldiers, policemen and plain cloth agents armed with Kalashnikovs and other guns were patrolling the government district on the Nile banks.

Police said late on Thursday that battles with protesters had killed 29 people, among them police officers. Sudanese opposition activists have put the death toll at over 100.

But London-based Amnesty International and the New York-based African Center for Justice and Peace Studies said at least 50 people had been killed by gun shots to the chest or head, citing witnesses, relatives, doctors and journalists.

Among the dead was a 14-year-old boy, while most other victims seemed to be between 19 and 26 years old, the groups said in a statement. Hundreds had been detained, it said.

“Shooting to kill - including by aiming at protesters' chests and heads - is a blatant violation of the right to life, and Sudan must immediately end this violent repression by its security forces,” said Lucy Freeman, Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

Sudanese officials could not be immediately reached for comment but Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman said late on Thursday any figures higher than 29 were inaccurate.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a separate statement it had confirmed that the death toll was higher than the official 29. It did not give a number.

“The police and national security forces fired teargas, rubber bullets, and according to credible reports, live ammunition into the crowds,” HRW said.

It was not immediately possible to verify the allegations.

Sudan's divided and weak opposition has tried several times to bring to Sudan an “Arab spring” unseating rulers in the region but has failed to mobilize masses seen in Egypt or Libya.

Bashir still enjoys support from the army, security apparatus, his ruling party and wealthy Sudanese with extensive business interests.

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