Sudanese police fire tear gas at crowds on third day of protests

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese police fired tear gas at dozens of demonstrators on Friday in the cities of Omdurman and Atbara, witnesses said, where people gathered in a third day of protests driven by price rises and a nationwide cash shortage.

The protests that began after noon prayers were smaller than those on Thursday, when at least eight people were killed as thousands took to the streets, some calling for the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir.

A government spokesman blamed "infiltrators" for derailing peaceful demonstrations into "subversive activity."

The protests are among the biggest the country has seen in five years.

They could put at risk moves to change the constitution and allow Bashir to stay in power into a fourth decade, while deepening turmoil in a nation of 40 million that slid into economic crisis after the south seceded in 2011.

There were also small-scale demonstrations across at least eight neighbourhoods in the capital Khartoum on Friday, but they were short-lived, witnesses said.

Police had stepped up their presence outside Khartoum's main mosques ahead of an anticipated third day of demonstrations.

Hundreds of Sudanese web users reported issues with internet access, particularly on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, late on Thursday and into Friday.

Many believe the government may be attempting to stall protests. Some who were able to gain access using VPNs called for the demonstrations to continue.

Demonstrators on Thursday torched ruling party offices in the cities of Dongola and Atbara, while security forces fired tear gas to disperse crowds in Khartoum, where small and scattered protests continued into the night.

Public anger has been building over price rises, inflation and other economic hardships, including a doubling in the cost of bread this year and limits on bank withdrawals.

Long lines continued to stretch outside of ATMs and bakeries in Khartoum early on Friday.

Sudan's economy has struggled to recover from the loss of three quarters of its oil output - its main source of foreign currency - when South Sudan seceded in 2011.

The Education Ministry said on Friday it was shutting schools and kindergartens in Khartoum "for the safety of the children."

(Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Janet Lawrence)

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