Sudan police attack anti-regime protests
Published Friday, June 22, 2012
Sudanese police used batons and fired tear gas to break up protesters blocking roads in central Khartoum and in a northern suburb in the latest demonstrations against tough austerity measures on Thursday, witnesses and activists said.
Student groups, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, have led rallies in the Sudanese capital against government spending cuts and sought to galvanize anger over price rises into a wider movement to topple President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, in power since a 1989 bloodless coup.
The Arab-African nation has faced soaring food prices and a weakening currency since South Sudan seceded a year ago, taking with it about three-quarters of the country's economically vital oil output.
On the fifth day of protests on Thursday, about 150 students from a financial college halted traffic in the city center and threw rocks at police while chanting "No, no to high prices" and "The people want to overthrow the regime," witnesses said.
Security forces broke up the protests with batons, they added.
In a separate incident in the northern suburb of Bahri, women and girls brought out chairs and sat in a main street, blocking traffic and holding placards reading "No, no to high prices" and chanting the same slogan, witnesses said.
Police tried to negotiate with the protesters to leave, and then fired tear gas to disperse them when they refused, the witnesses said. The security forces, wielding batons, then scuffled with young men from the neighborhood who threw rocks.
Sudan's police spokesman Al-Ser Ahmed downplayed the incident, and said it was not an anti-government protest. He denied the police used violence.
"You cannot describe what happened as a protest," he said. "It was just a gathering of under 10 women because the water was cut off," he said, adding that the situation in Khartoum was quiet, but some people were trying to exaggerate the situation in the media.
Men in civilian clothes with batons broke up a third protest of about 300 students from the East Nile University in another suburb, witnesses and activists said. The students had tried to block the street outside the university, they said.
Sudan's economic crisis is rooted largely in the secession of South Sudan a year ago, the culmination of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
The landlocked new nation took about 350,000 barrels per day of oil output and was supposed to continue paying Sudan some fees to use pipelines and other facilities in the north.
But the two failed to agree on a price, and the South shut down its production in January after Khartoum started confiscating some crude.
Oil was previously the main source of state revenues and foreign currency for Sudan, and the loss fueled a budget shortfall, a depreciation in the Sudanese pound and a rise in the prices of foods and other goods, many of which are imported.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has backed the Sudanese government in its implementation of harsh austerity measures to overcome what it called "daunting" challenges.
The finance minister set out the austerity plans aimed at plugging the budget gap in detail on Wednesday. They include raising some taxes and shrinking the government as well as sensitive cuts in fuel subsidies.
Late on Wednesday, police used batons to disperse members of the opposition Umma party as they left their headquarters.
Sudan's main opposition parties have called for protests against the IMF-backed austerity measures.