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Sudan opposition face charges over banned rally

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Up to 48 Sudanese opposition supporters will face charges for taking part in a banned rally close to parliament calling for democratic reforms, officials said on Tuesday.

Riot police fired tear gas to break up more than 200 demonstrators in Khartoum on Monday in the second clash with opposition supporters in a week as political tensions mount ahead of April elections.

Up to 48 people were arrested and later released on bail, spokespeople for four parties that took part in the protest told Reuters.

“They are trying to intimidate us. This was a very stupid step,” said Niemat Malik from Sudan’s Communists.

Kamal Omar, from the Islamist Popular Congress Party, said the protesters would be charged with causing a public nuisance.

An official from Sudan’s Ministry of Interior said around 20 protesters had been arrested and released on bail and the charges could include taking part in an illegal gathering.

“The organizers should have applied for permission for the march but did not do that. The ministry put out a statement warning that anyone taking part would be breaking the law,” said the official.

Clashes last week drew international criticism and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) which dominates the south, said the charges after Monday’s rally were “baseless.”

“All of them (the arrested) were participating in a peaceful march which is within the law and a constitutionally guaranteed right,” SPLM secretary general Pagan Amum told Reuters.

The SPLM has joined a loose alliance with opposition groups calling the National Congress Party (NCP) which is dominant in the north, to push through a raft of democratic reforms ahead of the April national elections, and a contentious referendum on southern independence in 2011.

Monday’s protest came as the SPLM and the NCP were moving closer on another front, agreeing the long-contested terms for the 2011 referendum.

Amum said the SPLM had called off a two-month boycott of Sudan’s parliament to vote through bills on the referendum, and two other key votes.

The referendum and April’s elections were promised in a troubled 2005 peace deal between the SPLM and the NCP that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement also created a coalition government between the two sides but relations have been repeatedly strained.

Reporting by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Jon Hemming