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Sudan: Police fire tear gas to disperse protesters in eastern town

Protesters in Kassala chanted for 'freedom, justice and peace' before they were swiftly confronted by riot police, witnesses say
Anti-government protests on outskirts of Khartoum on 15 January (Reuters)

Sudanese security forces fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators in the eastern town of Kassala, the first demonstrations in the city since anti-government protests spread across the country last month.

The protest erupted in the city's largest market on Wednesday and vendors scrambled to shut their stalls and get out of the way, Reuters news agency reported, citing witnesses.

Protesters chanted for "freedom, justice and peace" before they were swiftly confronted by riot police, AFP said.

The Sudanese government has faced a wave of demonstrations against the rule of President Omar al-Bashir since 19 December.

According to Sudanese officials, 24 people have been killed during near-daily demonstrations across Sudan, which were first triggered by a worsening economic crisis and an increase in the price of bread.

Activists and human rights groups say at least 40 people have been killed, while more than 1,000 others have been detained as the state seeks to stem the spread of the anti-government rallies.

Sudan protests spread to Darfur
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Protests were held for the first time in Sudan's Darfur region over the weekend, while several rallies in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman were met with a harsh crackdown from state security forces.

Last week, Sudan's National Human Rights Commission, the top governmental human rights body, condemned the killing "by bullets" of protesters in Omdurman, calling on the authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

"We condemn using bullets against citizens," said the commission, whose members are appointed by Bashir.

For his part, Bashir has refused to step down, accusing Western forces of fomenting dissent and telling his supporters that only he can guarantee stability in Sudan.

The president, who has been in power for nearly three decades, has promised free elections and told protesters to seek change that way.

"The only way to come to power in this country is through the ballot box and we promise to guarantee free and fair elections," he said in a speech on Monday.

"We said we have an economic problem and it is not solved via vandalism."

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a group of trade unionists that has been leading the protests, called for demonstrations to be held in 12 cities on Thursday.