June 24, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – In his first response to the wave of protests that has been gripping his country for the past eight days, Sudan’s President Omer Al-Bashir sought to downplay the growing unrest and dismissed the protesters as “bubbles” who will be “dealt with.”
- Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses a working women’s state organisation on June 24, 2012 in Khartoum (GETTY)
Addressing a gathering of students affiliated to his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in the capital Khartoum on Sunday, Al-Bashir described the protesters as “aliens and bubbles” who failed to mobilize the streets.
His comments follow more than a week of protests that erupted on Sunday, 17 June, as the government moved to lift fuel subsidies as part of what officials say is an austerity package that includes downsizing of the government’s bureaucracy as well as cuts in the salaries and perks of senior state officials in order to make up for a budget deficit of 2 billion US dollars.
The protests, which were initially started by students against worsening economic conditions, gained unprecedented momentum in the following days as demonstrations spread to several parts of the capital as well as other towns including Al-Obaiyd in north Kordofana, Madani in Al-Jazzera State, and Port Sudan in the east.
The protesters burned tires, blocked roads and chanted slogans denouncing rising costs of living and calling for the downfall of Al-Bashir’s regime.
Police and security forces resorted to violence through the use of teargas, batons and rubber bullets to confront the demonstration amid reports sweeping arrests and severe injuries among the protesters.
Activists are reporting that a great number of students had sustained injuries during clashes around Khartoum University on Sunday with security forces and what they refer to as “Rapata”, a traditionalized Sudanese term for bandits, to describe plain-cloth NCP supporters who are armed with machetes and beat the protesters.
Al-Bashir, who was speaking in an undisguised agitation, said that the protesters were just a few “incited” individuals who are receiving no interaction from the public and will be “dealt with through institutions”
The Sudanese president said that he toured Khartoum in an open car on Friday, 22 June, and saw that the Sudanese street was not responding to the protesters.
He went on to call on students across the country not to pay attention to the “conspirators, traitors and collaborators”.
These are typically the terms Al-Bashir uses to describe associates of the rebel groups who are fighting his government in the regions of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Al-Bashir said that those dreaming of an Arab Spring in Sudan will be disappointed. He added amid supportive chants from the NCP audience that his government has nothing to fear and is not ashamed of admitting its economic problems.
“We are not afraid of being overthrown by anybody. Not America or anyone else because it is Allah who gives the rule” he said.
Al-Bashir admitted that Sudan was facing an economic crisis but he added that efforts were being made to mitigate its effects.
He reiterated his defense of the government’s decision to end fuel subsidies, saying it’s because supporting this particular commodity only benefits the rich.
Sudan has been grappling with rising inflation, which hit 30 percent last month mainly on food prices, and a depreciating currency ever since the country lost nearly 75 percent of its oil, the lifeblood of the economy, with the secession of South Sudan in July last year.
Matters became worse in January this year when land-locked South Sudan decided to shut down its oil production rather than exporting it through Sudan’s pipelines following a bitter row over transit fees.
Sudan also experienced a hiatus in the production of oil extracted from its main field in Heglig when the disputed region was occupied by South Sudan for ten days in mid-April
Al-Bashir said that South Sudan’s decision to shut down oil production was “suicidal” and aimed at hurting Sudan. He added that recovering the economy requires tough treatment, stressing the necessity of reducing consumption and ending subsidies.