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The New Arab

Sudan arrests opposition leaders to halt march to presidential palace

Telecom workers whose companies have blocked social media staged sit-ins in Khartoum [AFP]

Date of publication: 22 February, 2019

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Sudanese security forces on Thursday arrested more than 10 opposition leaders in an attempt to halt a procession to the presidential palace calling on Bashir to step down.

The Sudanese regime arrested on Thursday more than 10 opposition leaders ahead of the latest day of protests calling for President Omar al-Bashir's resignation.

Security forces "pre-empted" the demonstrations, which are being held almost daily throughout the country but have their heaviest turnouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, by arresting 17 opposition leaders, the Sudanese Congress Party said in a statement.

Demonstrations went ahead in the capital Khartoum, but police acted with what has become a ritual by dispersing the protesters with tear gas.

Hundreds had gathered to join a procession to the presidential palace, where opposition leaders had planned to hand over a memorandum calling for Bashir to step down and the formation of a transitional government.

Protesters chanted "freedom, peace and justice", "peaceful, peaceful, against the thieves", and "the people want the fall of the regime" - all slogans that have permeated Sudan's cities and villages since mid-December, when protests began.

The deputy head of the Umma Party, Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi, the party's Secretary-General Sara Naqdallah, and Communist Party leader Mokhtar al-Khatib were arrested, among others.

The politicians were later released, The Sudan Tribune reported.

25 opposition politicians remain imprisoned.

"The regime is still dodging and clinging to its authority, while disregarding Sudanese people. This is done under the pretext of seeking limited amendments, to circumvent demands on the street for the regime to be abolished entirely", the National Umma Party said in a statement on Wednesday, according to Radio Dabanga.

Meanwhile, workers in major telecom companies, including Zain, MTN and Ericsson, staged sit-ins on Thursday.

The protest action is significant as telecom companies have limited access to social media since December 20, as part of the crackdown on protests.

"Protesters and police clashed in Burri, with demonstrators throwing rocks at police vehicles and policemen firing tear gas at them," an eyewitness told AFP.

A video on social media apparently shows security force vehicles attempting to hit protesters before crashing into one another. Twitter users said the video was taken in Burri, an area of Khartoum, on Thursday, but it could not be independently verified.

Protests in Sudan are now in their third month. They erupted when a government decision to cut surpluses led to tripled bread prices, exacerbating the financial situation of many in a country which has witnessed a severe economic decline in recent years.

The bread protests quickly spread across the country and took on a more broad political message - calling on Bashir, who took power in a 1989 military coup, to step down.

Sudanese officials claim 30 people have died in protest-related violence, but activists put the tally at 57, and say some of those people were killed under torture. Human Rights Watch says at least 51 have been killed during the crackdown.

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