KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- Authorities flogged 53 Christians who were convicted of rioting over efforts to move their Easter ceremony out of a public square, the Sudanese Council of Churches said Friday.

Four women and two children received 15 lashes each on Thursday, then were released. Authorities gave 20 lashes each to 47 men and sentenced them to 20-day jail terms, said a Council of Churches official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Christians were arrested on Tuesday while protesting a last-minute decision by authorities to transfer the ceremony to a smaller, closed-door venue in a suburb of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Abdel-Rahim Hussein later said the ceremony was licensed to be held in a closed place, rather than a public square, for security reasons and to avoid possible sectarian clashes.

Police used tear gas and batons to disperse the protesters and arrested dozens.

Muslim authorities usually reserve flogging for such offenses as drinking alcohol or illicit sex.

Most of Sudan's 28 million people are Muslims, and the country -- Africa's largest -- is governed by Islamic law.

It has a large Christian minority, mostly in the south. Southern rebels have been fighting government troops since 1983 in a war that has killed at least 2 million people.

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