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Sudan doctors to strike as bread protests enter fifth day

  • 23 Dec 2018

An umbrella coalition of professional unions says doctors in the African country would strike to "paralyse" government but continue to deal with emergencies.

Supporters of Sadiq al Mahdi, Sudan's ex-PM and leader of the opposition Umma Party, gather as he addresses them in a mosque in the capital Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman on December 19, 2018. ( AFP Archive )

Sudan's doctors will go on an indefinite strike in the first of a series of work stoppages amid protests calling on the country's long-time leader, President Omar al Bashir, to step down, an umbrella coalition of professional unions said on Sunday.

In a statement, it said the doctors will continue to deal with emergencies during the strike, which begins Monday and aims to "paralyse" the government and deny it much-needed revenues. 

The coalition also called on citizens to continue their street protests, which entered their fifth day Sunday, according to activists, with demonstrations in several cities.

There have also been calls by a number of independent trade and professional unions for a general strike on Wednesday.

Protests over rising prices

The protests are chiefly over the rising prices and shortages of food and fuel. A steep rise decreed last week in the price of bread, a main staple for most Sudanese, proved to be the final straw. 

The protests prompted authorities to suspend classes in schools and universities in a string of cities, including the capital Khartoum, and to impose a nighttime curfew in some of them.

On Sunday, according to Sudanese activists, protests took place in north Kurdofan west of Khartoum and Gadaref east of the capital, where six people were reported killed last week in clashes with police. 

They said protests also spread to the south and north Darfur in western Sudan. 

'Peaceful change'

Protests continued in the railway city of Atbara north of Khartoum as well, where police used tears gas and batons to disperse nearly a 1,000 demonstrators, according to the activists, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Participants in the protests have so far numbered in the hundreds or low thousands in each location, but their continuation for nearly a week despite the use of force by police suggests the level of popular discontent over Bashir's rule is at a dangerously high level.

Opposition leader Sadeq al Mahdi, whose democratically elected but ineffective government was ousted in a military coup led by Bashir in 1989, told reporters on Saturday that as many as 22 people were killed in clashes with police since the protests began.

The government has acknowledged fatalities in the protests but provided no figures.

Al-Mahdi triumphantly returned home last week from a year in exile abroad. Thousands of his supporters welcomed him. Addressing a news conference on Saturday, he said the protests were legitimate and that he supported a "peaceful change" of government.

Political slant of protests

While sparked by worsening economic conditions, the ongoing protests have taken an increasingly political slant, particularly after the killing of protesters on Thursday. Demonstrators now chant slogans calling on Bashir's government to step down.

On Saturday, the ruler of the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, spoke to Bashir by phone, lending his support and offering aid.

"He (the emir) declared his country to be standing by Sudan and its readiness to provide all that is needed to help Sudan get through this crisis," Sudan's state news agency reported.

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