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Bloody Days in Sudan

KHARTOUM, Sep 26 2013 (IPS) - Activists claim that more than one hundred people have been killed and thousands injured during demonstrations in Sudan following the removal of fuel subsidies.

Protests have been raging in Khartoum, Maddani, the second city 200 km south of the capital, Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast and various other locations since the government lifted the subsidies Monday.

Palls of black smoke are now commonplace above the city skylines. Protesters have targeted petrol stations, police stations and checkpoints. Roads have been blocked with burning vehicles, including the road to Khartoum airport. Government officials have condemned the protests as “premeditated sabotage”.

As tensions have risen, foreign embassies and companies have been put on alert, with many closing non-essential offices and cultural organisations, while their workers have been advised to stay home.

The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum has appealed for calm. In a statement it said: “We call on all sides not to resort to force and to respect civil liberties and the right to peaceful assembly,” and regretted “reports of serious injuries and attacks on property during demonstrations which turned violent”.

In the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman, the security forces have shot into the crowds from armoured vehicles and helicopters have been flying over.  Victims of the violence have been killed by gunshot wounds to the head and chest.

Meanwhile, there are reports that elements of the Sudan Armed Forces are refusing to carry out orders from President Omar al-Bashir to control the situation on the streets.

Some protesters have targeted offices of the NCP ruling party, while others have gathered outside companies belonging to senior NCP members, such as the Steam soda factory. In many cases the police and agents of the National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) have tried to break up the demonstrations using extreme force.

Activists denounced that opposition party leaders were arrested before the fuel subsidies were lifted, in an attempt to prevent them from organising protests. Since then thousands of demonstrators have been taken into custody by the police and NISS.

However, the protesters remain defiant. Hafiz Ismail, an economist and commentator, told IPS: “The protesters will make the government change its policies – policies which will kill the people slowly.”

Commenting on government claims that the lifting of subsidies would help revitalise the Sudanese economy, he said: “They are lying and disrespecting the Sudanese people. Besides these measures won’t affect the rich but will only harm the poor.”

Hoyida Mohamed, 24, from Omdurman, told IPS she protested through the night, to fight the fuel price hikes and call for the government to resign. “The new policies will make our lives, which are already hard, impossible. Now we don’t have a chance to go to the university or get treatment when we get sick. We want this government out. Our lives have become very hard under this regime.”

Rishan Oshi, an activist who has participated in the demonstrations from the start, told IPS she was protesting against the government’s “disrespect for the Sudanese people. They want to fill their pockets from our wage packets

“The price increases are incredibly unjust. The people who are protesting are ordinary people and don’t belong to any political parties. I considered it like a revolution of the downtrodden and the hungry.”

The majority of the population in Sudan is poor.

Meanwhile, Internet services have been shut down in what seemed like an official attempt to stifle coverage of the protests. The Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) has appealed for an end to the block. “There is no justification for any government to cut off the Internet’s vital flow of information, which journalists and citizens alike rely upon,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Programme Coordinator Sherif Mansour.

The government has taken a hand in the way the protests have been reported. The Al-Ayam, Al-Qarar and Al-Youm al-Tali newspapers purportedly changed reports on the demonstrations following pressure from the Sudanese security forces. The Sudanese Journalists Network called for a strike, starting Thursday.

Fuel prices rose by more than 90 percent since the subsidies were lifted. And the annual inflation rate, which previously stood at 50 percent, is expected to climb to 100 percent.

This is the second time fuel subsidies have been cut since South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011, resulting in the loss of 75 percent of Sudan’s oil reserves.

Some economists have proposed alternatives to price increases to make good the shortfall, including cutting state workers’ salaries, fighting corruption, and reinvesting in agriculture.

Ismail said the government should enter into dialogue with opposition parties in order to address the country’s economic difficulties.

He said the government should seek political reconciliation, and argued that the removal of subsidies is “ineffective…These are short-sighted policies. It’s like treating cancer with Panadol (the painkiller paracetamol).”

The demonstrations are expected to continue over the next few days.

 
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