PORT SUDAN, Sudan, Jan. 30 -- Sudanese police and troops went on a rampage in an area of Port Sudan on Saturday after shooting dead at least 18 people who were preparing to take part in a demonstration, witnesses said Sunday.
At least seven people were seriously wounded in the incident in Port Sudan, a city in eastern Sudan on the Red Sea. The witnesses said soldiers threw hand grenades into houses miles from the scene of the demonstration.
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The violence began when members of the Beja tribe gathered for a march Saturday to demand that the Sudanese government start negotiations on a power-sharing agreement and on an arrangement to share the country's resources. Police and troops began shooting at the demonstrators, witnesses said.
A U.N. official said there were unconfirmed reports that as many as 30 people had been killed. It was not clear whether some of the deaths were the result of the rampage later Saturday.
The Beja tribe has long complained of neglect in eastern Sudan, according to the Associated Press. It is a poor region where a low-intensity conflict has persisted for 16 years. Poverty-related illnesses, including tuberculosis, are common in the Beja area of Port Sudan, and illiteracy is a major problem.
The Beja Congress, an exile group representing numerous tribes in eastern Sudan, rejected a Jan. 17 accord between the government and opposition groups to end the country's 22-year-old civil war.
Abdullah Moussa Abdullah, a prominent Beja politician, said dozens of houses were attacked Saturday, but he could not give a figure for the number of casualties. Authorities were not immediately available to comment on the report.
In a hospital room in the city, Mohamed Din said armed forces stormed his house Saturday and shot him in the stomach.
"They came into my house. They shot everywhere. Four of my family members were injured," he said.
Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, the Sudanese interior minister, said police had opened fire on demonstrators after cars were set on fire and shops looted.
"Security forces had to protect the port and oil reservoirs," he said during a visit to Dubai, adding that the situation was now stable.
The Beja Congress has a military wing that has undertaken minor military operations in the east. Abdullah said Beja forces attacked government forces Saturday and Sunday in an area south of the town of Kassala.
The Beja live in expansive shantytowns on the outskirts of Port Sudan. Originally a nomadic people, many moved to the port to work after famine killed their cattle and mechanized farming became prevalent in the 1980s.
In the graveyard outside the city, thousands of angry men were preparing to bury the dead.
"Yesterday there was a massacre here. We need international protection," Abdel Salem Mohamed shouted. "We are going to struggle. We are going to prepare for war."