September 24, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan accused the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) and opposition parties of standing behind the demonstrations that broke out this week in the wake of the government’s decision to significantly cut fuel subsidies.
- FILE PHOTO - Sudanese police during demos in Omdurman (AFP)
Senior Sudanese officials including president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir have defended the measure saying the only alternative would be an economic collapse as the state budget can no longer continue offering the generous subsidies on petroleum products to its people.
Sudan’s oil boom that fueled an unprecedented economic growth and a relative prosperity over the last decade came to an end with the independence of South Sudan which housed around three quarters of the crude reserves prior to the country’s partition.
Last year the Sudanese government rolled out an austerity package that saw a scaling back of fuel and sugar subsidies as well as cutting the number of ministries. It also effectively devalued the beleaguered currency with the goal of reducing exchange rate parity with the black market.
But the economic picture remained bleak with inflation rates at double digit figures which pushed ordinary Sudanese to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for food and other basic commodities.
The Sudanese pound also continued its free fall against the US dollar reaching 8.2 in the black market this week compared to an official rate of 4.4.
The decline of the local currency and shortage of Forex meant that Sudan will pay more to import food which is vital to plug the deficiency in local food production. It also hurt businessmen and foreign companies that desperately seek to repatriate profits abroad.
This year’s round of subsidy cuts nearly doubled gasoline and diesel prices which is sure to be felt across the board and will likely create a domino effect on prices of other goods and services such as transportation tariffs which were already increased by 25% in Khartoum.
Despite staunch defense by officials, protests broke out yesterday in Sudan’s second largest town of Wad Madani which is also the capital of Gezira state.
Demonstrators set fire in government and NCP buildings amid reports that police apparently failed to control the situation and that army units were deployed. The local government convened an emergency meeting in which it decided to impose a curfew.
Yesterday the Sudanese police said that a 23-years old male was killed during the demonstrations when shots were fired at protestors from a civilian car. Its statement added that search is underway to identify the assailants.
The head of the NCP organisational sector Hamed Sideeg claimed in press statements on Tuesday that the governments has preliminary information indicating that SRF elements from other states infiltrated Wad Madani to invoke the protests.
Sideeg said that the motives behind the demonstrations were mixed which included political aspects on top the economic ones.
"It is hard to find a solution when protests are mixed with political aspect," Sideeg said.
The governor of Gezira state, Al-Zubair Bashir Taha, accused certain parties of setting fire on the government buildings and gathering in the main public transportation station, announcing that the situation was contained and 6 people were arrested.
He pointed in a statement that demonstrations erupted on Monday afternoon and protestors set fire on a gas station and stole 20 mobile phones, saying that 103 people were arrested.
Taha also announced that 37 police officers were injured and fire was set on Petronas gas station, taxation office, and traffic police building and accused protestors of attempting to wreak havoc in coordination with foreign circles, saying that they are “trying to fish in turbid waters”.
The governor, who belongs to a hard-line faction within the NCP, also accused the protestors of attacking police stations, power stations, banks, and commercial shops, claiming that the protests resembles Um Rawaba and Nyala events which were carried out by the SRF.
He echoed Sideeg assertions that Monday’s protests were previously planned in coordination with the SRF, pointing that the protestors don’t belong to Gezira state.
PROTESTS EXPAND TO OMDURMAN
The violent protests continued for the second day and spread in various parts of Khartoum’s twin capital city of Omdurman, soon turning into calls for the downfall of the regime when protesters shouted "Go… The people want to overthrow the regime”.
Several neighbourhoods of Omdurman witnessed massive demonstrations by high school students against raising ticket fees of public transportation. They were then joined by large numbers of ordinary citizens.
Khartoum university students also began to take to the streets despite the riot’s police siege around the university central campus.
The streets of Omdurman have turned into a hit-and-run arena between the protesters, police and security forces leading to several injuries among the demonstrators.
Protestors set fire in a public transportation bus, several gas stations, and the NCP building in Om Bada locality amid reports of dozens injuries.
Demonstrators managed to seize control of the main streets of Omdurman neighbourhoods and set fire on old car tires prompting the police to fire tear-gas and close several streets.
Schools, commercial shops in Omdurman markets, and public transportation were shut down as protests intensified.
Eyewitnesses told Sudan Tribune that youths in Omdurman neighbourhoods held meetings all night long on Monday to coordinate the demonstrations and mobilize high school students and residents, adding “we worked up students to protest and when students of two high schools took to the street in the early hours of the morning, they were joined by citizens and workers”.
According to the same sources, protests then moved to cover main streets in Al-Thawra, Om Bada, and Al-Fitaihab neighborhoods with the police and security forces seeking to stop it but to no avail.
Hundreds of Sudanese exchanged WhatsApp messages calling for gathering at 7:00 pm on Tuesday to demonstrate against the government decisions
Activists disclosed that authorities have shut down several main streets leading to Omdurman in order to encircle the demonstrators.
Demonstrations erupted for the second day in Gezira state capital city of Wad Madani.
Eyewitnesses said that about 200 people gathered in down-town and marched towards the two major commercial markets in the city , disclosing that authorities blocked all streets leading to the University of Gezira and Wad Madani College and students hostels.
Activists claimed that the number of causalities has risen, saying that 5 children were killed. There was independent verification. They also sent messages through social media networks calling for not burning public and private properties.
There were also reports of similar protests of varying intensities In South Darfur state capital city of Nyala, Al-Managil and Wad Al-Hadad in central Sudan, Atbara in the River Nile state, and Al-Gedaref in East Sudan.
Throughout the day, security officers arrested a 100 people and authorities said that they will be prosecuted immediately.
A civil court in Omdurman already sentenced 10 people who took part into the demonstrations to receiving lashes and fined them 200 pounds according to the defence team of the protestors. Eyewitnesses said that the sentence was carried out immediately in the courtyard.
Protesters also closed a main road in Al-Thawra neighbourhood in Omdurman prompting the riot police to fire live ammunition in the air and block the surrounding streets to disperse the demonstrators.
Osman Mohamed, an engineering student at the University of Khartoum, said that police trucks besieged the university and closed all streets leading to Al-Gamhoria and Al-Gamaa boulevards.
Until Tuesday night, 30 police officers were injured in the protests in Wad Medani and Omdurman.
Nafeer, which is a youth dominated group launched to help survivals of the recent floods which swept Khartoum, announced that it will offer free meals for the protesters if they organized sit-ins in public squares to topple the regime.
A member of the group who preferred to stay anonymous said that they are ready to provide food, water, and medical care for the peaceful protesters.
The chancellor of the University of Sennar in central Sudan issued a decision closing the university indefinitely claiming that he wants to protect students’ lives.
A video posted on the internet showed dozens of armored personnel carriers on their way from Khartoum to Wad Madani. A security source said that reinforcement units were indeed sent to quell the escalating protests in the city.
Authorities deployed forces in civilian dress in the streets of Khartoum’s neighbourhoods of Jabra, Al-Daim, Al-Sahafa, Arkaweet, and Al-Hilla Al-Gadida since Monday night in anticipation of massive demonstrations.
The Sudanese authorities also banned newspapers from reporting on the protests and ordered chief editors to only publish reports issued by the police.
In Khartoum, authorities arrested dozens of the female students in Omdurman after they chanted “down, down Bashir” and “people want to bring Bashir down”.
A student said that security men in civil dress took a minibus carrying 23 students to the police station where they were harassed and forced to write pledges not to join the demonstrations.
Commercial shops in Libya Market, which is the largest market in Omdurman, closed early evening unusually, while eyewitnesses said that traffic congestion on the streets of the city made residents arrive late night on Tuesday.
Authorities arrested Nimat Malik, the member of the Communist Party’s central committee and widow of the party’s former secretary general, Abdel-Khalig Mahgoub, from her house in Omdurman.
The chairman of the opposition Sudanese Conference Party (SCP), Ibrahim Al-Shaikh, criticized the regime and accused it of starving the Sudanese people, demanding that the government refrain from using excessive force against the protesters.
He added in statement issued on Tuesday that Sudan’s future is contingent upon overthrowing the government and the NCP and returning power to the people.