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US 'encouraged' by Sudan's decision to free political prisoners, end curfew

US will send new envoy to Khartoum to hold talks and assess situation on ground
Thousands of protesters wave flags, hold banners and chant slogans in demonstration at Defence Ministry in Khartoum (Reuters)

The United States on Thursday praised orders by Sudan's new military leader to free political prisoners and end a curfew as it dispatched an envoy to Khartoum to encourage a transition to democracy.

Makila James, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of eastern Africa, will head to Khartoum this weekend, an official said.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that the United States will "calibrate our policies based on our assessment of events", but added that talks on de-listing Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism remained suspended.

"We are encouraged by the decision to release political prisoners and cancel the curfew in Khartoum," Ortagus said in a statement.

A senior State Department official told Reuters that James, the new US envoy, planned to hold talks in Khartoum over the weekend and assess the situation on the ground.

The official, speaking to reporters on background, described the situation in Sudan as "extremely fluid" and said it was important to avoid a "quagmire of endless deliberations" over who should lead an interim civilian authority.

Demonstrators have said they will not cease until the transitional military council transfers power to civilian-led authorities and elections are held.

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Bashir, who faces arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court over accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan's Darfur region, was moved this week to a high-security prison in Khartoum from the presidential residence.

On Wednesday, Bashir was taken to Khartoum's grim high-security Kobar prison from the presidential residence, family sources said, as military rulers announced steps to crack down on corruption.

Over three decades of Bashir's rule, tens of thousands of activists were detained, beaten, tortured and killed in Kobar by National Congress Party officials and its security system.

Ortagus said Sudan remained labelled by the US as a state sponsor of terrorism and Washington's policies towards it would be based on "our assessment of events on the ground and the actions of transitional authorities".

The State Department official said none of the members of the military council were under US sanctions.

Sudan was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 under former US President Bill Clinton, cutting it off from financial markets and strangling its economy.

Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has engaged in impromptu dialogue with protesters in the streets of the capital, now heads the military transitional council and has promised to hold elections within two years.

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