Sudan begins releasing political prisoners
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan freed seven political prisoners on Tuesday, a day after President Omar Hassan al-Bashir ordered the release of all such detainees.
The amnesty came after Sudan and South Sudan agreed in March to end hostilities and resume cross-border oil flows after coming close to war a year ago. Khartoum had accused its southern neighbor of supporting rebels trying to topple Bashir.
Seven members of an opposition group were released from Kober prison in Khartoum at dawn on Tuesday, witnesses said. They had been held since January after being accused of meeting a group of Sudanese rebels in Uganda who planned to overthrow Bashir.
Farouk Abu Issa, head of the National Consensus Forces grouping of the main opposition parties, confirmed the release of the seven. "We demand all other political prisoners be released," he told Reuters.
Rights groups have accused the government of holding an unspecified number of dissidents since the security services cracked down on small protests against austerity measures unveiled by Bashir last year.
In February, a U.N. human rights expert visiting Sudan said authorities were holding opposition figures and other detainees without trial and denying them urgent medical care.
Bashir did not say when, and how many, prisoners would be released in his speech to parliament on Monday.
"I announce today my decision to release all political prisoners," said the president, in power since 1989. "I also renew a commitment to create a climate to hold a national dialogue with the other political forces."
Issa called for Bashir to take further measures, including lifting a ban on newspapers which had been critical of the government.
Sudan's weak and fractured opposition have tried to bring "Arab Spring" protests to Khartoum, but failed to mobilize mass support.
Vice President Ali Osman Taha last week invited rebel groups to help prepare a new constitution following the secession of South Sudan in July 2011.
Khartoum has accused Juba of backing rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) which took up arms in two border states around the time of South Sudan's declaration of independence.
Rebels of the SPLM-North sided with the south during the civil war with Khartoum that led up to South Sudan's secession but were left inside Sudan after the partition.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Ulf Laessing in Cairo; Editing by Pravin Char)
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