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New Sudan protests as Bashir orders women freed

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Tyres burned and shouts for "freedom" filled the air in a Sudanese town Sunday night during renewed anti-government demonstrations, witnesses said, while authorities freed some people arrested after earlier protests.

President Omar al-Bashir ordered the release of female detainees, and a judge in Khartoum threw out charges against 19 people who were among hundreds rounded up after deadly protests sparked by fuel price hikes in late September, a lawyer said.

The latest demonstrations occurred in various parts of Sinnar town, an agricultural centre about 250 kilometres (155 miles) southeast of Khartoum, witnesses said, adding that police fired tear gas.

Up to 300 demonstrators also called for freedom and justice in Shambat, a poor district of North Khartoum, another witness said.

Shambat has been the scene of several demonstrations since September 23, when the government cut fuel subsidies, sending thousands into the streets in the worst urban unrest of Bashir's 24-year rule.

State radio reported on Sunday night that Bashir ordered the release of "all the women arrested except those accused of a crime".

The husband of social media activist Dalia El Roubi told AFP that she was among those freed.

Roubi, who works for the World Bank in Khartoum, had been held for seven days by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

Abdelrahman Elmahdi, her husband, said there had been "no abuse, no violence" against her.

Fellow activist Rayan Shaker, who was arrested with Roubi, was also freed without charge, Elmahdi said.

Amal Habani, a journalist with Al-Khartoum newspaper, was released as well, her husband Shaugi Abdelazim told AFP.

"She is in good condition," he said.

In the Khartoum district of Haj Yousef, a judge found "no evidence" against the 19 people accused of vandalism and causing a disturbance, one of their lawyers, Mutasim al-Haj, told AFP.

They were among 35 people brought before the Haj Yousef court over the alleged unrest.

Trials are to continue for the other 16 with defence testimony on Monday, Haj said.

A police pickup truck was the only noticeable security presence outside the colonnaded, glass-fronted court building which lies opposite mud-brick homes on a red dirt road in the impoverished district.

The 35 first appeared in court on Thursday, when Haj told AFP that none of the accused was arrested during the alleged vandalism or demonstrations.

They faced up to seven years in prison if found guilty, he said.

Sudan's government says it has detained about 700 "criminals" after the late-September protests.

The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, a human rights watchdog, said Saturday that more than 800 people had been arrested throughout the country by police and the NISS.

The prisoners include political activists, opposition party members and human rights defenders, the watchdog said, adding that the exact number of detentions was unknown.

"The majority of detainees are in NISS custody and have not been charged with any criminal offence," the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies said.

Security forces were believed to have killed more than 200 protesters, many of whom were shot in the head or chest, Amnesty International said.

Among the casualties was a 14-year-old boy, rights groups say.

Authorities have reported 34 deaths from the unrest.

The government said it had to intervene when crowds turned violent, attacking petrol stations and police.

At the trials in Haj Yousef, a police witness testified that officers had orders to only fire in the air, Haj said.

"They didn't order us to shoot the demonstrators," he quoted the officer as saying.

str-it/gk

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131006/new-sudan-protests-bashir-orders-women-freed