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Sudan defends crackdown as protests enter second week

Sudan's Interior Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid speaks  during a press conference in Khartoum on September 30, 2013
Sudan's Interior Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid speaks during a press conference in Khartoum on September 30, 2013

Sudan has pointed to "fake" victim photos and foreign interference in defence of a deadly crackdown on protesters, which drew fresh criticism from inside the ruling party as rallies continued.

With reporters complaining of stepped-up censorship, numerous videos and photographs purporting to show bloodied victims have circulated on YouTube, Facebook and other social media since the demonstrations began eight days ago, sparked by a rise in fuel prices.

"Most of the pictures on social media websites are from Egypt," Interior Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamed told a news conference Monday, where he and other officials were confronted by a Sudanese reporter.

"Why are you always telling lies? The people are killed by NCP militia," said Bahram Abdelmoneim when he got up to ask a question.

Abdelmoneim, of Al Youm Al Taly newspaper, was referring to the ruling National Congress Party. He was unreachable by telephone later after colleagues said he had gone to a meeting with state security agents.

An officer at the scene of a fire at a popular market in Khartoum on September 29, 2013
An officer at the scene of a fire at a popular market in Khartoum on September 29, 2013

US Secretary of State John Kerry Monday met with his Sudanese counterpart Ali Karti in Washington but failed to repeat strong US criticism of the deadly crackdown on protestors.

On Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki blasted what she called a "brutal crackdown" by Khartoum.

But in Kerry's meeting with Karti at the State Department on Monday, the crackdown was "not a topic", Psaki said.

The two men "discussed the importance of peace between Sudan and South Sudan and the need to end the conflicts in Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan," she said, as well as the need to allow humanitarian access to protect civilians.

However Britain's Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, on Monday said he was "shocked and saddened" by the reports that Sudan's security forces had used excessive force.

Sudanese protestors throw stones at a petrol station in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman during a demonstration after the government announced steep price rises for petroleum products on September 25, 2013
Sudanese protestors throw stones at a petrol station in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman during a demonstration on September 25, 2013.

"I urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint and I call on the Sudanese government to cease the use of live ammunition immediately," he said in a statement which noted the importance of "a meaningful comprehensive national dialogue".

Authorities say 34 people have died since petrol and diesel prices jumped more than 60 percent on September 23, sending thousands into the streets in the worst urban unrest in the history of President Omar al-Bashir's 24-year reign.

Activists and international human rights groups said at least 50 people were gunned down, most of them in the greater Khartoum area.

The real toll was difficult to determine but "could be as much as 200", a foreign diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Khartoum governor Abdel Rahman Al-Khidir told the news conference alongside Hamed that police only opened fire to defend their stations.

Hamed said "criminal" attacks -- separate from the peaceful protests -- had been launched on police facilities and petrol stations.

"We know that overseas foundations are supporting these criminal activities," he said, adding that about 700 people have now been arrested.

A petrol station that was damaged during rioting  in the Sudanese capital on September 26, 2013
A petrol station that was damaged during rioting in the Sudanese capital on September 26, 2013

"They used the same tactics that the Darfur rebels are using in Darfur," where a decade-long insurgency has raged.

Analyst Magdi El Gizouli has dismissed as "nonsense" government suggestions of rebel links to protests in the impoverished country, where people have endured two years of soaring prices.

A witness to one shooting recounted to AFP how plainclothes security officers in a pickup truck suddenly drove up to a protest in the greater Khartoum area.

An officer quickly opened fire with a handgun, wounding one demonstrator before their truck fled the scene, the witness said.

Eight days after demonstrations began in a rural area south of the capital, rallies continued on Monday.

About 200 called for freedom Monday night as they marched through the streets of Khartoum's Burri area for a third day to express support for the "martyr" Salah Sanhouri, 28, a pharmacist.

'Unnecessary crackdown'

He was shot dead during a protest on Friday, they said.

In Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman witnesses said about 300 people demonstrated at the main bus station until police tear gassed them.

Sudanese protesters have echoed calls for the downfall of the regime made by demonstrators during the 2011 Arab Spring revolts, which toppled longtime rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Police fired tear gas into the campus of Ahfad University for Women, where between 150 and 200 students were demonstrating "against the government and things like that," university president Gasim Badri told AFP.

He said police did not enter the campus in Omdurman but lobbed tear gas from outside.

In the town of Atbara north of the capital, police dispersed about 400 demonstrators, witnesses said.

A senior official in Sudan's ruling party spoke out against the "unnecessary" deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters, saying the government should have encouraged broad dialogue.

"The fact that so many have died points to the degree of violence," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, in comments that reflect divisions within the governing NCP.

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