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Scores killed during riots in Port Sudan

Map of Sudan
Sudan - a vast country devastated by 20 years of civil war (IRIN )

Scores of people were reported killed and others wounded after police shot at protestors of the Beja ethnic group during two days of riots in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, Beja representatives said.

The head of the Beja Congress movement in Khartoum, Amina Dhirar, told reporters at a news conference on Sunday that at least 25 demonstrators were killed and about 100 others were wounded in Port Sudan, 684 km northeast of the capital, Khartoum.

After the riots that took place on Friday and Saturday, the Associated Press reported Red Sea State Governor Gen Hatim al-Wasilah as saying the police had acted to stop widespread looting and vandalism. He estimated 14 people had died and 16 were wounded.

Dhirar said the security forces were heavy-handed in their action. She demanded immediate talks between the government and her party's leaders exiled in neighbouring Eritrea.

IRIN could not reach any Sudanese government official in Sudan for comment on the police action.

However, the Sudan Embassy in Nairobi said a government delegation, headed by the political secretary of the National Congress and the minister of agriculture and forestry, Magzoub Al-Khalifa, arrived in Port Sudan on Saturday to review the situation.

While saying dialogue was needed to deal with any demands, Al-Khalifa said in a statement on Tuesday that "the [southern Sudanese] peace agreement reached in Naivasha [Kenya] constitutes a framework for solving any grievances for all states of the Sudan".

The Khartoum newspaper, Alwan, reported on Tuesday that at least 100 people had been released from detention, after security forces restored calm to the city.

Demonstrations had spread to the towns of Kassala and Sinkat, in eastern Sudan. The Beja were protesting their exclusion from recent peace agreements signed between Khartoum and southern rebels.

The government of Sudan reached a preliminary political settlement with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an association of opposition groups, including the Beja Congress, on 16 January in Cairo, Egypt. The deal supports the peace accord signed on 9 January with the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), backs the drafting of a new constitution, and calls for the formation of a non-partisan and professional army.

Although the agreement was hailed as an important step towards nationwide peace and the disarmament of the NDA's militias, the Beja Congress, an exiled group representing numerous eastern Sudan ethnic groups, boycotted the Cairo talks.

During the past 16 years, NDA members have fought alongside the SPLM/A in the southern civil war, which left two million people dead, and launched sabotage attacks and other low-level violence in Sudan's north and east in opposition to President Umar El-Bashir's government.

The Beja Congress accuses the government of neglecting remote regions of the country. The congress views the agreement between the government and the SPLM/A as a model for its own region, in demanding greater autonomy.

Originally a nomadic people, many Beja now live in extensive shantytowns on the outskirts of Port Sudan. They moved to the port to work as labourers after famine killed their cattle and mechanised farming took over their lands in the 1980s.

Beja leaders claim to represent some four million people in the Red Sea and Kassala states, along the Eritrean border.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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