Sudan cracks down on opposition ahead of protests

Feb 3, 2011

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan widened its crackdown on the opposition by arresting 10 journalists from the Communist Party newspaper ahead of anti-gvernment protests expected on Thursday by activists inspired by Egypt’s uprising.

Sudan has used armed riot police to disperse more than a dozen demonstrations by young Sudanese across the north of the country this week.

The protests are directed against price rises and a government that demonstrators say is restricting freedoms. Security forces have surrounded universities, preventing students from spilling out onto the streets.

The protests have been small but widespread. Hundreds of arrests and beatings have fragmented the movement, with around 50 activists still detained or missing. Khartoum arrested opposition Islamist Hassan al-Turabi and 12 of his party officials ahead of the protests. None have been charged.

“The security were waiting outside our headquarters after an (opposition alliance) meeting last night and arrested 10 journalists from the al-Midan paper,” senior Communist Party official Siddig Youssef said.

Hassan Gattan, a member of the party’s central committee, was also arrested at his home overnight, Youssef said.

“They later released the female reporters but they were told to report to security offices today,” he said, adding eight journalists and Gattan were still being detained.

Sudan’s security service was not able to immediately comment.

Sudan is facing an economic crisis marked by soaring inflation. It is also vulnerable politically after the south of the country voted overwhelmingly to secede last month, which many in the north view as a tragedy.

Human Rights Watch condemned Khartoum’s use of “excessive force” in silencing the protests. Activists have claimed their first “martyr” but police deny anyone has died during the protests.

“Rather than violently repressing basic freedoms, the Khartoum government should uphold the rights enshrined in its own constitution, allow freedom of political expression, and let journalists freely report on events,” the New York-based group said in a statement on Thursday.

Protests are planned across the country on Thursday, although violence in neighbouring Egypt — with which Sudanese feel a close affiliation — may prevent the demonstrations from gathering widespread support.

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