Sudan detains opposition leaders

KHARTOUM: Sudanese police detained three senior opposition figures from the south's ruling party on Monday including a state minister in a crackdown against a planned protest, an AFP reporter witnessed.

Pagan Amum, Yassir Arman and Abbas Gumma from the ex-rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) were led away as they arrived by car at the parliament building in Khartoum.

Amum is the SPLM?s secretary general, Arman its deputy secretary general in northern Sudan, and Gumma is a state minister at the country's interior ministry.

Police had announced late on Sunday that the demonstration to push for reforms ahead of national elections and over a referendum on independence for southern Sudan was illegal.

Security forces blocked roads leading to the parliament to stop protesters, with a heavy presence in key areas elsewhere in the capital, the reporter witnessed.

"The security committee for Khartoum state has met and decided that the protest is illegal," senior police officer Mohammed Babikir said on state television.

"Whoever takes part in this demonstration will be breaking the law," he said, shortly after Arman had told journalists he expected "thousands of our people" to take part.

The SPLM has been unable to agree with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of President Omar al-Beshir on democratic reforms ahead of elections next April and a law on the referendum in the south scheduled for January 2011.

The national vote will be the first in Sudan since 1986, three years before Beshir toppled a democratically elected government in a bloodless military coup, and the fifth since independence in 1956.

The SPLM and around 20 opposition groups called for a "peaceful protest" to exert pressure on the NCP.

Registration for regional, legislative and presidential elections began on November 1 and was extended until Monday after a request from opposition parties and former southern rebels.

Khartoum state announced the closure of schools on Monday and a day off for public employees to underline the government's "engagement ... towards democratic reform" and to aid voter registration.

Reform and changes to the election law were key aspects of a 2005 peace accord which ended the African continent's longest-running civil war, between north and south Sudan.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, called for the general election and the south's referendum.