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Sudan police fire tear gas as protesters attempt march

Deadly anti-government rallies have rocked Sudanese cities including Khartoum since 19 December, when protests first broke out over a government decision to raise the price of bread.

FILE: Sudanese protesters run away from tear gas smokes during a demonstration in Khartoum, on 31 December 2018. Police fired tear gas at protesters in Sudan's capital ahead of a planned march on President Omar al-Bashir's palace calling on him to "step down" following deadly anti-government protests. Picture: AFP

KHARTOUM - Riot police fired tear gas Sunday at protesters in the Sudanese capital ahead of a planned march on the presidential palace calling for President Omar al-Bashir to step down, witnesses said.

Deadly anti-government rallies have rocked Sudanese cities including Khartoum since 19 December, when protests first broke out over a government decision to raise the price of bread.

Authorities say at least 19 people including two security personnel have been killed in clashes during the demonstrations so far, but rights group Amnesty International has put the death toll at 37.

On Sunday, small groups of protesters gathered in areas of downtown Khartoum after a group organising anti-government rallies called for a march on the palace.

But riot police were quick to move in and disperse the protesters with tear gas, witnesses said.

"Police are not even allowing 10 people to gather," a witness told AFP.

Video footage posted on social media networks showed protesters fleeing down streets and alleyways in the downtown area trying to escape the noxious gas.

The Sudanese Professionals' Association, a group of doctors, teachers and engineers, had called Saturday for the march after organising similar rallies in recent weeks.

"We will march on the palace on Sunday calling for President Bashir to step down," the association said in a statement.

Security forces deployed to key squares across the capital on Saturday night ahead of the planned rally.

Protests on Sunday also broke out in the city of Madani southeast of the capital, witnesses said, with demonstrators chanting for "peace, justice, freedom".

An anti-government rally was also held in the northern town of Atbara, where the current unrest first erupted on 19 December.

Witnesses said the local market in Atbara was shut down as protesters took to the streets.

Sudanese authorities have launched a crackdown on opposition leaders, activists and journalists to prevent the spread of protests that initially broke out outside of Khartoum.

The country has been facing a mounting economic crisis over the past year led by an acute shortage of foreign currency.

The cost of some commodities including medicines has more than doubled and inflation has hit 70 percent.

Food and fuel shortages have been regularly reported across several cities, including Khartoum.

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