Sudan charges 25 opposition politicians over plot

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KHARTOUM, Nov 11 (Reuters) Sudan has charged 25 opposition politicians with crimes ranging from illegal possession of arms to organising terrorist groups and has rejected a defence appeal to release them, the justice minister said today.

The 25 were seized from their homes at gunpoint four months ago and accused of attempting to overthrow the government.

Justice Minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardi told Reuters the politicians had lost an appeal for their release, which had been brought by defence lawyers on the grounds that they had not been told of any charges against their clients.

''The court of appeal dismissed the appeal presented to it by the defence and the court found that charges were in fact directed to the accused,'' said Minister Mardi.

Mardi said the charges included abetting mutiny, holding illegal military training, calling for opposition to public authority using criminal force or violence and organising criminal and terrorist organisations.

The two most high-profile detainees are the head of the opposition Umma Party for Reform and Renewal, Mubarak al-Fadil, and the Deputy Secretary-General of the opposition Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ali Mahmoud Hassanein.

They began a hunger strike last week in protest against what they call their illegal detention although they will eat some dates and drink water because of their health problems.

Under Sudanese law detainees can be held for up to two weeks after which they must be charged or released, the defence said.

A protest of about 40 students from Khartoum university was broken up by police today as they marched on the justice ministry to hand the minister a letter demanding the release of the political detainees, witnesses said.

''Those who break the law open the door to anyone to take the law into their own hands,'' said the statement, which condemned the detention of the men as illegal.

This week authorities renewed a ban on reporting the coup attempt, saying only comments from the concerned authorities were allowed. Journalists previously had ignored the ban, saying it had no legal basis.

Rights group Amnesty International said some detainees were tortured to try to exact confessions, a charge the government has denied. It has threatened to sue the London-based group.

UN rapporteur for human rights in Sudan Sima Samar has expressed concern at the arrests ahead of the first democratic elections in the country, due in 2009. She has urged the government to work with more transparency in the matter.

REUTERS SBC HT2222

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