Tear gas fired as Sudan protesters rally over price hike

The United States remains "very concerned" about Sudan's human rights record given the restrictions on religious and media freedoms in the country, the US embassy in Khartoum said (AFP Photo/ASHRAF SHAZLY)

Khartoum (AFP) - Sudanese anti-riot police on Wednesday fired tear gas and confiscated banners as demonstrators including lawyers and journalists staged rallies against a government decision to cut fuel subsidies.

Sudan has seen weeks of sporadic protests over the subsidy cuts, which have led to a sharp rise in the cost of other goods, including medicines.

Wednesday's demonstrations came after the end of a three-day nationwide strike called by several opposition groups, which received a mixed response.

"No, no to high prices," shouted about 300 men and women as they marched along a main street in the city of Omdurman near Khartoum on Wednesday morning, an AFP correspondent reported.

Anti-riot police swiftly arrived at the scene and fired tear gas to disperse them.

In downtown Khartoum, about 150 lawyers protested in front of the high court -- the first rally of its kind since the fuel price hike was announced earlier this month.

Dressed in black gowns and coats the group stood facing the high court and carried banners that said: "Say no to corruption, Say no to high prices, Say no to detentions."

Several people in cars flashed victory signs in support of the lawyers as they drove past, the AFP correspondent reported.

The lawyers later dispersed as anti-riot police arrived and began confiscating their banners.

Sudanese authorities have cracked down on protests in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the deadly unrest that followed a previous round of subsidy cuts in 2013.

Dozens of people were killed at that time when security forces crushed large street demonstrations, drawing international condemnation.

Authorities have already arrested more than a dozen opposition politicians in recent weeks, and also cracked down on newspapers critical of subsidy cuts.

Members of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have seized entire print runs of several dailies that reported the opposition strike call or questioned the cuts.

Authorities have also halted broadcasts by Omdurman Channel, a private television channel, accusing it of operating without a licence, a charge its owner denied.

To protest the crackdown on newspapers, members of the media staged a small demonstration in central Khartoum on Wednesday wearing "Journalists on strike" badges.

"The authorities are harassing us and restricting our freedom of speech," said one journalist, a member of the Sudanese Journalists' Network, an unofficial group that advocates free speech.

A prominent independent daily, Al-Jadida, whose copies were confiscated this week, decided against publishing Thursday's edition.

"The confiscation of our copies is a type of punishment by the National Intelligence and Security Service," the newspaper said in a statement.

"Our journalists have decided to be on strike tomorrow, and so we will not publish Thursday's edition but will return on Friday."

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