• NORTH AFRICA \ Apr 13, 2001
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    Clashes Over Church Services in Sudan
Clashes Over Church Services in Sudan
Sudanese Christians were arrested and others injured on Wednesday in clashes between police and protesting Christians in the capital, Khartoum. The Christians were protesting against a government order to transfer Easter services from central Khartoum to the suburbs, Agence France-Presse (AFP) said.

Thousands of Christians - almost all from the predominantly-Christian south - gathered in front of the All Saints Church in Khartoum and began stoning cars. The protest came after about 40 Christians were detained on Tuesday, when the order was issued, AFP said. The secretary-general of the Sudan Council of Churches, Enock Tombe Stethen, said the church had refused to transfer the celebration because of short notice, and because the proposed venue was "unsuitable". A number of journalists were also detained on Wednesday when they attempted to attend a press conference by church representatives, news agencies said.

Muhammad Dirdiery, Deputy Head of Mission in the Sudanese Embassy, Nairobi, told IRIN that the service had been transferred for security reasons "to avoid a confrontation between Muslims and Christians". He blamed hardline Christian groups in the west of fomenting trouble in Sudan, and said the demonstrations had been inspired by "religious right-wingers". Dirdiery said it was part of a campaign by western evangelist groups to portray the war in Sudan as a religious war, which, he said, was an "oversimplification" of the conflict. "Sudan respects the right of all people to practise their religion, but the government has a duty to maintain law an order," he told IRIN.

Spokesman for the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in Nairobi, Samson Kwaje, told IRIN that the government had "ruthlessly suppressed" the Christian meeting, which was an inter-denominational service led by a visiting German evangelical preacher, Reinhard Bonnke. Kwaje condemned the action by police and said tear gas canisters had been used against church members. He it was "clear intolerance" by the government and an attack on religion. "It shows us that we can never go anywhere with the question of separation of religion and state."

Church leaders had called for an investigation into the clashes and a meeting between Christian leaders and President Umar al-Bashir, AFP reported.