KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese police clashed on Wednesday with protesters demanding the release of opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi, who was detained after he called for a “popular revolution” over price rises and political demands.
A Reuters witness saw riot police attack about 150 protesters on a main road in the Riyad suburb of Khartoum with tear gas and batons. Three cars full of security men carrying rifles were waiting behind the riot police.
Protesters were shouting “freedom and justice.”
Turabi’s arrest on Tuesday came at a politically sensitive time for the government of President Omar Hassan al Bashir, who stands to lose control over the oil-producing south which last week voted in an independence referendum.
It also comes as Tunisia grapples with fallout from the ouster of its long-time president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country last week after three weeks of violent unrest sparked by social grievances.
Sudanese police this week also arrested 10 members of Turabi’s party who had called for street protests if Khartoum did not reverse price rises and form a national coalition government to include the opposition in the north of Sudan.
The protesters took to the streets on Wednesday after leaving a forum by an opposition coalition, which included all the main parties, who demanded Turabi’s immediate release.
The opposition had threatened on Sunday to take to the streets if the government did not remove its finance minister and dismantle parliament over the decision to raise prices on a range of goods.
Arab governments are reeling from Tunisia’s popular revolution which ousted its president after 23 years in power, sparking calls for similar uprisings throughout the Arab world.
Bashir is the only sitting head of state wanted by the International Criminal Court. He stands accused of war crimes and genocide during a counter-insurgency campaign in the western Darfur region, charges he denies.
Last week police clashed with students in four cities who were protesting against rising prices after the government cut subsidies on petroleum products and key commodity sugar.
Sudan is grappling with a current account deficit and a currency devaluation that is driving up inflation.
On Wednesday Turabi’s family staged a sit-in protest outside the feared National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) demanding they be allowed to visit him.
Turabi, who split from Bashir in 1999/2000 after a power struggle, has since been in and out of jail. He is usually arrested during difficult times for the government, most notably when Darfur rebels launched an unprecedented attack on the capital in 2008.
Bashir fears Turabi may still have supporters inside the powerful army and NISS.
Additional reporting and writing by Opheera McDoom, editing by Diana Abdallah