December 6, 2009 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese authorities arrested the SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum and his deputy Yassir Arman, Sudan Tribune has learned.
They were taken to the police station after appearing for the planned protest in front of the National Assembly.
The Qatar based Al-Jazeera TV website said that its TV crew was prevented from covering the demonstration and their tapes were confiscated.
Reuters said that around 25 SPLM and opposition supporters gathered outside the parliament in the early hours of Monday and were surrounded by police armed with batons and shields.
Arman, a senior member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) scuffled with police outside the National Assembly and was driven away to a police station, a Reuters witness said.
Police officers beat demonstrators and onlookers with batons as Arman was driven away chanting “freedom.”
Amum speaking through his cell phone from the police station to Al-Jazeera said that they have recieved permission from the interior ministry to carry out the demonstration.
He said that the law allows for staging protests if they notify the authorities beforehand. He accusd the government of breaching the constitution and resorting to restricting freedoms.
The Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) issued a statement calling on all its supporters in the capital to join the demonstration and “extract their rights to express their free will in their present and the future of their country”.
“The movement urges all Sudanese opposition forces to join forces” the statement read.
It was also reported that the police detained the SPLM figure Abbas Goma’a who also holds the post of the state minister for interior in the coalition government.
The Sudanese authorities surrounded the headquarters of the Umma Party. An eyewitness said that the police threw tear gas.
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The Sudanese opposition groups vowed to stage mass demonstration at the parliament on Monday despite a last minute ban made by the authorities on the rally raising fears of a confrontation between the two sides.
The Sudanese interior ministry issued a statement saying that the political parties did not receive proper permission to proceed with the mass protest and warned that those intending to take part in this “illegitimate” demonstration with legal action.
The move is a reversal in position by the government which has previously stated that political forces “are entitled to engage in any manifestation that is in accordance with the laws to express their opinion”.
Eyewitnesses who asked not to be named told Sudan Tribune that thousands of heavily armed policemen took up positions in the capital since early morning hours in an apparent bid to curb the protests.
The bulk of the parties which signed up to take part in the rally include those signatories to the Juba declaration last September in a conference hosted by Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM).
The parties are protesting the delay in passing crucial laws including the national security and referendum bill. A memorandum is set to be delivered to the national assembly.
However, the Sudanese cabinet unexpectedly announced that Monday will be a holiday in order to allow people to register for voting before the deadline expires. The decision prompted some opposition figures to view it as an attempt to kill the planned rally.
The SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum said that around 50,000 are expected to take part in today’s demonstrations. He added that the number will increase within two weeks if the laws do not get passed in this timeframe.
Yesterday Amum said that Monday will be a “historical day for the start of mass popular movement for freedom”.
The Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir met today separately with Umma Party leader Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) chief Mohamed Osman Al-Mirghani.
Al-Mirghani, who boycotted the Juba conference, told reporters afterwards that Sudanese issues cannot be handled only between the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the SPLM.
The Umma party leader Al-Mahdi said he proposed to Bashir an “elections Code of honor” and Sudan state media reported that Bashir told the ex-PM that it is needed in order to pave the way for the coming Elections, stressing the necessity of displaying it to all political parties for reviewing and studying it.
Al-Mahdi added that strong national efforts are needed in the upcoming period to address the issues of differences. He indicated that an inclusive national gathering shall be called to tackle points of differences with regard to the Act of the Security, the referendum, the issues of Darfur and the freedoms.
However, the Umma party leader made no mention of the planned demonstration though other officials confirmed their intention to participate.
The leader of the Darfur rebel group, Abdel-Wahid Al-Nur said he supports the SPLM in “achieving the legitimate rights of Southerners”.
“The problem of the South is the same problem of all Sudan whether in Darfur or in the east. We need a new state based on values of liberalism, citizenship and secularism” Al-Nur said.