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Sudan tightens security ahead of more anti-coup protests

CAIRO (AP) — Sudanese authorities tightened security across the capital of Khartoum ahead of protests Saturday against the October military coup and subsequent deal that reinstated the prime minister but sidelined the country's pro-democracy movement.

Troops deployed across the city and closed almost all bridges over the Nile River linking Khartoum with its twin city of Omdurman and the district of Bahri, the state-run SUNA news agency reported.

Authorities have warned protesters against approaching “sovereign and strategic” sites in central Khartoum — a reference to main government buildings and key institutions. The protesters have said they would head to the presidential palace. The city's Security Committee said Sudanese forces would “deal with chaos and violations,” SUNA had reported.

Last weekend, security forces violently dispersed demonstrators when they attempted to stage a sit-in near the presidential palace. At least three protesters were killed, and more than 300 were wounded on Sunday. There were also allegations of sexual violence, including rape and gang rape by security forces against female protesters, according to the United Nations.

Volker Perthes, the U.N. special envoy for Sudan, urged security forces to “protect” the planned protests, and refrain from arresting people for simply wanting to take part in the demonstrations.

“Freedom of expression is a human right. This includes full access to the internet. No one should be arrested for his or her intention to protest peacefully,” he said in a Twitter post.

Ahead of the demonstrations Saturday, activists reported disruption of internet access on phones in Khartoum, a tactic that had been used by the generals when they seized power on Oct. 25.

Advocacy group NetBlocks said Sudan was experiencing mobile internet disruptions early Saturday. “The mechanism appears similar or identical to that used during the October post-coup blackout,” Alp Toker, the group’s director, told The Associated Press.

The government did not comment on the disruptions.

The October military takeover upended a fragile planned transition to democratic rule and led to relentless street demonstrations across Sudan. At least 47 people were killed and hundreds wounded in protests triggered by the coup, according to a tally by a Sudanese medical group.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a former U.N. official seen as the civilian face of Sudan's transitional government, was reinstated last month amid international pressure in a deal that calls for an independent technocratic Cabinet under military oversight led by him.

That deal, however, was rejected by the pro-democracy movement, which insists that power be handed over to a fully civilian government tasked with leading the transition.

The prime minister is continuing discussions on finding a way out of the political deadlock. He met Friday with leaders of the country’s largest Umma Party, his office said.

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