Sudan’s top police chief has ordered his forces to quell “firmly and immediately” the anti-government demonstrations that have entered their seventh day, while opposition groups reported a security crackdown on their leading members.
Gen Hashem Othman al-Hussein told his aides on Saturday to confront the “riots … and the groups behind them”, the official SUNA news agency reported, in a rare acknowledgement by the state media of demonstrations that have been concentrated in Khartoum but have also spread to a provincial capital.
Hundreds of demonstrators marked a week of small-scale protests sparked by rising prices, the day after unrest expanded throughout the capital, Khartoum, and cities across the country.
Protesters are rejecting a government austerity plan that slashed subsidies and doubled the price of fuel and food. But they also appear to be inspired by Arab uprisings in neighboring Egypt and Libya and are demanding the ouster of longtime Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
According to two witnesses, demonstrators in the eastern town of Gedaref on Saturday shouted: “We will not be governed by a dictatorship!”
They said about 200 people gathered in the main market where they denounced the high cost of food before police dispersed them with batons.
Poverty is endemic in Gedaref and the two other eastern states of Kassala and Red Sea.
In the Al-Daim area of Khartoum, burned tyres and stones lay in the street, and tear gas hung in the air as riot police stood by and residents clustered in alleys, the AFP news agency reported.
Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Khartoum, said the widely scattered protests were causing a bit of confusion for the security forces.
But the spokesman for Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, Badr Eddin Ahmed Ibrahim, dismissed the protests, saying they were largely led by university students and were used by opposition parties to agitate against the government.
Expression of discontent
Sudan’s Ummah party said in a text message that at least three of its members were detained, including a member of its political bureau, Adam Gereir.
Siddique Tawer, a member of the Sudanese Baath party, said the party’s spokesman Mohammed Diaa Eddin was arrested at his home early Saturday.
The anti-austerity unrest continued in neighbourhoods across Khartoum and in key towns elsewhere in the country where people had demonstrated on Friday, in the most serious expression of discontent since student-led protests began eight days ago.
Activists reported that protests broke out in at least five neighbourhoods of Khartoum on Saturday, but it was not immediately possible to verify the reports independently.
Sudan’s state-run radio said security troops had fired tear gas overnight to disperse dozens of protesters who attacked a group of policemen in the capital Khartoum.
Saturday’s report by Omdurman Radio says about 150 protesters were involved on Friday and that one police vehicle was damaged.
Riot police have violently dispersed a string of demonstrations since they began on June 16 outside the University of Khartoum.
The protests symbolise “mass rejection of the regime’s oppressive policies and its failure in governing this country,” Sudan Change Now, an activist youth movement, said, amid signs the movement was spreading beyond the core of student activists.
Inflation has risen each month, hitting 30.4 per cent in May, before Ali Mahmud al-Rasul, finance minister, announced on Wednesday the withdrawal of fuel subsidies, causing an immediate jump of about 50 per cent in the price of petrol.
With a budget deficit of $2.4bn, Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan gained independence last July, leaving the north struggling for revenue, plagued by inflation and with a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.
The two countries were supposed to work out a deal whereby the landlocked South would pay Sudan fees to export crude via pipelines and other facilities on its territory, but they have so far failed to reach an agreement.
South Sudan shut down its crude output in January after Khartoum started taking some oil. African Union-brokered talks in Addis Ababa have yet to produce a deal.
“The government must immediately retract the austerity measures it has adopted which reflect the distortion in its expenditure which continues to prioritise defence and security at the expense of social services,” Sudan Change Now said.
The current government of President Omar al-Bashir, an army officer who seized power in 1989, withstood earlier student-led protests by thousands objecting to high prices in 1994.
Sudan’s latest demonstrations remain small compared with the mass uprising that swept neighbouring Egypt last year and toppled another long-time ruler, Hosni Mubarak.