August 30, 2006

Sudanese police teargas protesters

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Riot police fired teargas and beat a
journalist in central Khartoum on Wednesday as opposition party
supporters gathered to demonstrate against a recent rise in
petrol and sugar prices, witnesses said.

Thousands of people had been expected at the protest
organized by a group of opposition parties. But riot police
prevented opposition leaders and others from joining the rally,
which the authorities had banned, witnesses said.

Dozens of people holding banners ran through the streets to
escape police wielding batons and shields. Police sped in
trucks through central Khartoum, dispersing any crowd
attempting to demonstrate.

"We asked for permission from the authorities to hold this
demonstration but they refused to give it to us," said Mariam
al-Mahdi, spokesperson of the opposition Umma party.

"This is the excuse they used today for the actions to
prevent us from demonstrating," she added.

A Reuters witness saw riot police snatch a TV camera from
an Al Jazeera journalist filming the crowd. The police chased
him, beating him with sticks. A Reuters vehicle was hit by one
of many tear gas canisters fired by police.

At least seven lorries filled with heavily armed soldiers
drove around the capital in a show of force.

The government has recently announced that it would reduce
petrol and sugar subsidies to fill a hole in this year's

Shouting "no to the rise in prices," one group of
protesters managed to march to within a few hundred meters of
the capital's Republican Palace before riot police stopped them
and arrested the men, witnesses said.

"We are here to demonstrate peacefully," said protester
Sarah Lugdallah. "The oil we have goes straight into the
government's pockets and not to the people. People need
democracy -- this is just the beginning."

Sudan produces around 330,000 barrels of crude per day.

Mahdi said that four of the demonstration's organizers were
arrested by security forces early in the morning.

The march coincided with a government-organized protest
against the deployment of U.N. forces in its war-torn Darfur
region. That demonstration of around 1,000 people was allowed
to take place nearby.

"They give out sweets at one protest and tear gas bombs at
the other," said one Sudanese bystander.