July 31, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – At least eight people, most of them young students, have been killed and more than 50 others injured during confrontations between police firing live bullets and peaceful anti-government protesters in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, multiple sources confirmed on Tuesday.
- Smoke billows from burning tires as Sudanese demonstrators protest against rising prices near the main market of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, on July 31, 2012 (GETTY)
Eye witnesses told Sudan Tribune that the events in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur State, were triggered by exorbitant increases in prices which extended to fuel on Monday, raising the price of a gallon to 40 Sudanese pounds, approximately 10 US dollars.
The rise in fuel prices prompted the syndicate of public bus drivers to stage a strike which paralyzed transportation to and out of downtown on Tuesday.
The absence of transportation coupled with the already worsening economic conditions drove hundreds of protesters, including school students, to the streets after 12 am, where they burned tyres and chanted slogans, calling for the downfall of President Omer Al-Bashir’s government.
In response, eye witnesses said, police forces fired heavy teargas and live bullets, leading to the death of 12 protesters and injury of more than 50. The witnesses added that 9 of the victims’ bodies have been received at Nyala Hospital.
According to a list issued by Sudan Change Now (SCN), an activist group, those killed include: 1. Mohammed Abakar, a 17-year-old male school student. 2. Tahani Hussain, a 17-year-old female school student who was shot with a bullet in the head. 3. Gamal Ibrahim, a 17-year-old male school student. 4. Mujahid Mohammed, an 18-year-old male school student. 5. Mohammd Ali, a 16-year-old male school student. 6. Nur Al-Din Gido, a 17-year-old male school student. 7. Ibrahim Mohammed Abdel Gadir, a male citizen. 8. Al-Hadi Hussein, a male citizen who was killed at his house by a stray bullet. 9. Ali Al-Tayyib, a male citizen. 10. Abdel Latif Adam, a male citizen. 11. Hasab Allah Mohammed, a male citizen. 12. Hawa Abdulla, a female citizen.
While Sudan Tribune could not independently verify the death toll, the authorities issued conflicting statements, with the police saying eight were killed and the South Darfur governor saying only six protestors were killed.
The killings escalated the situation, leading to violent reactions from citizens who moved to burn two police stations south and north of Nyala while others burned the local ministry of education and a gas station. Protesters also threw stones at the local radio and another government building as they blocked more roads with burning tyres and chanted “people want to change the regime”.
The victims were buried yesterday following a big funeral procession charged with vengeful emotions. The witnesses said that the situation in the city was extremely tense and that the citizens are determined to continue their demonstrations.
Nyala’s protest marks the latest and most violent episode of intermittent demonstrations that erupted in different parts of the country, including the capital Khartoum, in response to the implementation of government austerity measures that ended fuel subsidies in order to make up for a budget deficit of 2.4 billion US dollars resulting from the country’s loss of oil revenues due to the secession of South Sudan.
Throughout the period of Arab Spring-styled protests, which began in Khartoum on 16 June, the authorities have used violence and sweeping arrests to prevent and break up demonstrations but managed not to kill anyone before the Nyala protest.
In a statement issued last night, the ministry of interior blamed Nyala’s events on “vandal groups” who targeted government buildings and police stations.
The ministry said that the events to which the police “reacted with minimum force to protect lives and properties” had led to the death of eight protesters and the injury of a number of people “including 24 policemen 3 of them are in critical conditions.”
The ministry added that the situation was now under control and that the police arrested a number of suspects, calling on citizens to foil the plans of those “targeting the security and stability of the country”
Meanwhile, the governor of South Darfur, Hamad Ismail, convened a press conference in Nyala on Tuesday where he accused “opposition infiltrators” and Darfur rebel groups of being behind the unrest to create a security breakdown in his state.
The governor said that the actions taken against government properties during the events resemble what armed rebels used to do by vandalizing premises.
Ismail alleged that the events had nothing to do with the economic situation but rather with “outlaws” seeking to exploit the situation to paralyze the economy and increase the sufferings of citizens.
He, however, admitted that some sectors of public service had been affected by austerity measures, adding that his government’s decision to increase bus fares by 80 piaster “was the point of the launch of the vandalism movement”
Ismail announced that the state government had decided to suspend study at primary and high school until further notice as part of what he described as “precautionary measures to confront the rioters and vandals who used school students as fuel to their agendas which target the security of citizens and the wealth of Darfur”
The authorities’ response to events in Nyala has drawn condemnation from several actors in the Sudanese political arena. In a press release the Darfur rebels, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said that this “criminal” response was “deliberate and premeditated” by the “genocidal” regime of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) against the armless people of Darfur.
JEM said it strongly rejects the NCP’s violent attempts to stamp out the revolution, vowing “to protect with arms”.
In an e-mailed statement to Sudan Tribune, the secretary-general of the armed opposition group, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), Yasir Arman, condemned the events and appealed to the United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who is due to visit the region this week, to “send a clear and loud message to Khartoum to stop killing innocent protesters”
Similarly, Sudan Change Now said it strongly condemns the continued and deliberate killing of innocent civilians by the NCP particularly in “Darfur and other marginalized conflict regions”
The group called on all the people of Sudan to join the resistance against the NCP regime and bring justice to those who have committed crimes against the people of Sudan.