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KHARTOUM: Crowds of Sudanese protesters rallied on Thursday in downtown Khartoum in support of fellow demonstrators detained in the weeks of rallies against President Omar Al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule, witnesses said.

The latest protest came after Al-Bashir acknowledged that Sudan’s controversial public order law and growing economic hardships had angered youths and sent them out into the streets.

The rally was called to express solidarity with the hundreds of demonstrators who have been arrested since anti-government rallies erupted in December. 

The protesters returned to the downtown area, chanting their campaign’s rallying cry of “freedom, peace, justice,” witnesses said.

For almost two weeks a security clampdown had prevented them from converging on the capital’s downtown area.

“Bring all your soldiers but today you will fall,” chanted the protesters, witnesses said, adding that riot police swiftly confronted them with tear gas.

“The authorities thought we won’t be able to reach downtown,” a demonstrator told AFP without giving his name for security reasons.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) which has led the demonstrations called Thursday’s protests specifically in support of the detainees who it says are being “tortured.”

On Wednesday, Al-Bashir acknowledged that youths, mainly women, were leading the rallies and said the public order law was “one of the reasons” for their anger.

Activists say the decades-old law targets mainly women, often accusing them of “indecent dressing and immoral behavior.”

Hefty punishments including fines and jail terms are imposed on women found guilty under the legislation.

According to some Sudanese women’s rights groups, more than 15,000 women were sentenced to flogging in 2016.

Al-Bashir, who swept to power in 1989, said the harsh economic conditions in Sudan, such as high inflation, were also driving the protests.

“It’s not only the public order law that we are against,” said Tahani, a female protester who asked not to be fully named for security concerns.

“Once we overthrow the regime, we will change the old laws completely with new laws that respect the dignity and diversity of the Sudanese people.”

Protests first erupted on Dec. 19 after a government decision to raise the price of bread.

But they quickly turned into nationwide rallies against Al-Bashir’s three-decade-old rule, with protesters calling for his resignation.

Officials say 30 people have died in protest-related violence, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 people have been killed in clashes with security forces.

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