KHARTOUM, Sudan - Police clashed with tribesmen Saturday in the Red Sea coastal city of Port Sudan, leaving at least 14 people dead and 16 injured, a government official said. The United Nations said police fired on peaceful demonstrators.
Riots involving Beja tribesmen broke out early Saturday in Port Sudan, 425 miles northeast of the capital of Khartoum, Red Sea governor General Hatim al-Wasilah told The Associated Press. The area is underdeveloped and poor, and the rioting appeared to be economically motivated.
The casualties occurred when police tried to stop widespread looting and vandalism, al-Wasilah said. He said the situation was under control. He said 14 people were killed and 16 injured.
Aamir Tahir, a political leader in the Beja tribe, said 23 people died and 100 others were wounded. Speaking to the AP in Kenya from Saudi Arabia, he said police shot at demonstrators. He said that he was on the phone with someone in Port Sudan when gunfire erupted.
The U.S. Embassy to Sudan warned Americans living in Sudan to avoid unnecessary travel to Port Sudan. The official Sudanese News Agency said a dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed in the area for Saturday and Sunday.
Radhia Achouri, spokeswoman for the United Nations Mission in Sudan, said the clash could open a new front of violence in Sudan, where a nearly 2-year-old conflict is raging in the western Darfur region, and a peace treaty was reached only this month to end the 21-year southern civil war.
"Shooting with live ammunition at people and killing them while they are demonstrating peacefully is not the right way to handle these incidents, especially with the situation throughout Sudan being so tense," Achouri told the AP in Egypt. "Sudan does not need another front being opened for violence, clashes and civil war."
On Wednesday, the Sudanese air force bombarded villagers outside Shangil Tobaya in southern Darfur, killing or wounding nearly 100 people- an action U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned.
Al-Wasilah said the Beja tribesmen submitted demands to the government Friday for the "fair distribution of wealth and power" and officials assured them their demands would be met. A Saturday meeting was set and tribesman promised not to riot, he said.
"However, early Saturday morning, riots started and a group led the crowd in the looting and sabotage of private property, and we have to deal with them to restore order and calm," al-Wasilah said.
The Beja Congress, an exiled group representing numerous eastern Sudan tribes, rejected the accord signed with the government Jan. 17 to end the 21-year southern civil war. The Beja group said the pact failed to meet its demands for a share of wealth and power in the northeastern region.