A banned rally organized by Sudanese opposition parties has resulted in the detention of a number of senior officials in the South's ruling party. The event's organizers allege key democratic reforms are being blocked by the Khartoum regime.
The secretary general of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, Pagan Amum, and his northern deputy, Yasir Arman, were detained during a march outside the nation's parliament. A Cabinet minister as well as SPLM parliamentarians were also reportedly detained.
The demonstration was called to protest what opposition leaders say is obstruction by the National Congress Party of efforts to reform security laws and pave the way for free and fair elections
Speaking from prison, Mr. Amum said the arrests would not deter the protests.
"The peaceful march is continuing by all the political parties," he said. "We just heard some news now that there is a huge gathering in the Umma party headquarters and also in the SPLM headquarters in Khartoum."
The South' leadership called an emergency meeting in the South's capital city Juba. Addressing the nation afterwards, The President of the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan and 1st Vice President of Sudan, Salva Kiir, said the detention of the party's members was "shocking" and "illegal" and demanded their immediate release.
"The SPLM is committed to peace and stability in the country and accepts such a procession as an expression of the free will of the people," said Kiir. "We therefore call upon the National Congress Party leadership to unconditionally release all the detainees."
Hundreds of protesters gathered in dispersed pockets and chanted freedom slogans outside the parliament building. Police used tear gas to try to break up the crowd and beat back demonstrators with batons.
Protesters also gathered outside the police station holding the SPLM officials, demanding their release.
SPLM serves as the junior government partner under the ruling National Congress Party in a coalition administration agreed to in the 2005 peace agreement. But relations between the two parties are growing increasingly tense as the final critical provisions of the peace implementation near.
National elections are scheduled for April this year and are to be the first real democratic vote held in the nation in decades. Nine months after the elections, Southern Sudan is scheduled to hold an independence referendum with the option to secede.
The demonstration was organized to protest what SPLM and opposition leaders say is the obstruction on the part of the NCP in reforming security laws to pave the way for free and fair elections. SPLM is also calling for the urgent passage of the law finalizing the Southern referendum.
A last-minute ban on the rally was announced on Sunday, but SPLM insisted the rally was legal and vowed to go forward with the event. The NCP said that the demonstration had never received proper approval.
The protesters planned on submitting a petition to the national parliament, but government institutions remained closed Monday due to a hastily declared national holiday. Authorities said the holiday was announced to encourage participation in the last day of voter registration.
The opposition groups and SPLM have confirmed that they are considering a united alliance to run against the President Bashir and his NCP party. SPLM is not expected to front a national candidate of its own for the Sudanese presidency.
The landmark 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended a two-decades long North-South civil war which killed nearly two million people, most of whom were civilians in the South.