Sudan police teargas protesters after Friday prayers

KHARTOUM Fri Jul 13, 2012 9:51am EDT

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese police fired teargas and used batons to break up an anti-government protest of some 300 worshippers after Friday prayers, witnesses said, the latest demonstration against veteran President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Protests started last month when Bashir, in power since 1989, announced tough austerity measures, including phasing out fuel subsidies.

The demonstrations have yet to attract large numbers like in Egypt or Yemen but pose a challenge to the government struggling with an economic crisis, spiraling food inflation and several insurgencies.

In a repeat of events last Friday, police surrounded the Imam Abdel Rahman Mosque in the Omdurman suburb of the capital Khartoum and fired teargas when some 300 worshippers started a protest after noon prayers, witnesses said.

Officers used batons to drive worshippers back inside the mosque where they continued their protest for more than an hour, one witness said. Police detained several people, he said.

Protesters shouted "the people want to overthrow the regime" and held up banners denouncing the government, one witness said.

Police spokesman As-Sir Ahmed Omar denied there had been any confrontation between police and worshippers in Omdurman.

"There is nothing going on today, no clashes, nothing happening," he said, declining further comment.

The mosque, one of the country's largest, has been a frequent flashpoint for protests. It is associated with the opposition Umma party, which along with other opposition parties backed demonstrations, but has so far refrained from bringing out its supporters in large numbers.

Sudanese activists estimate authorities have detained some 2,000 people since protests broke out four weeks ago, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report this week.

"While the number of 2,000 detained is difficult to confirm, reports indicate that at least 100 people remain in detention in Khartoum alone," the report said.

Sudan lost much of its oil wealth - the main source for state revenues and dollars need to fund imports - when South Sudan became independent one year ago.

Inflation hit 37 percent in June, more than double the level of a year ago, adding to the hardship of people who have endured years of crises, multiple conflicts and U.S. trade sanctions.

Bashir has dismissed the protests as insignificant.

(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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