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Police 'attack' as Sudan protesters gather at mosques

By Ian Timberlake

KHARTOUM (AFP) - Sudanese police on Friday "attacked" with tear gas and rubber bullets as demonstrators gathered at mosques for weekly anti-regime protests sparked by inflation, a rights group said.

"Still large numbers of police forces are surrounding the central mosques," said an official of the Organisation for Defence of Rights and Freedoms, representing political, media, trade union and other activists promoting human rights.

"It seems rubber bullets and tear gas were used," he said, adding that information was still preliminary.

One of the mosques targeted was that of the opposition Umma party in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman, said the official, asking not to be named.

Video images showed dozens of people marching outside the party's Wad Nubawi mosque, chanting and calling for the regime's overthrow. Some held signs.

"We got out to the square peacefully," and then police responded, one demonstrator said.

Video showed police on pickup trucks firing tear gas, sending the crowd scattering.

Wad Nubawi was also a focus of demonstrators a week earlier, when hundreds who gathered were also confronted with tear gas and rubber bullets, witnesses said at the time.

Umma party officials could not immediately comment.

The official with the rights group said there had been arrests.

Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel told AFP that its crew was briefly detained and the cameraman roughed up while reporting at Wad Nubawi.

In another district of Khartoum, an AFP reporter saw helmeted police stop to remove stones blocking a main road, a common tactic of demonstrators.

Protests against high food prices began on June 16 at the University of Khartoum.

After President Omar al-Bashir announced austerity measures, including tax hikes and an end to cheap fuel, demonstrations spread to include a cross-section of people around the capital and in other parts of Sudan.

Friday has now become the focus of the demonstrations, which initially involved groups of 100 or 200 people daily burning tyres, throwing stones and blocking roads in a call for regime change sparked by high inflation.

Opposition parties on Wednesday signed a charter to step up anti-regime protests by mobilising their members against the current political system. Umma, led by former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, is a key member of the opposition alliance.

Bashir seized power from Mahdi, who was democratically elected, and established his Islamist regime on June 30, 1989.

Activists, however, have dismissed the political opposition as weak. "They are not mobilising much at the grassroots," a veteran activist said ahead of Friday's protests.

Bashir has played down the current demonstrations as small-scale and not comparable to the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere, maintaining that he himself remains popular.

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