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Sudan protests spread to the capital city

  • 20 Dec 2018

The River Nile State declared emergency and curfew on Wednesday as protesters called for overthrow of Omar al Bashir's government

A bonfire is lit along the street during protests against price increases in Atbara, Nile River state in northeastern Sudan December 20, 2018. ( Reuters )

Sudan demonstrations have spread to the capital city Khartoum, while the police shot dead two demonstrators and injured dozens more in the eastern city of Gadarif, according to latest news updates. 

For the past two days, protesters in Sudan have vandalised several public properties, including the ruling party's office, as part of a series of demonstrations against lack of basic services, mainly rising bread prices and rampant fuel shortages. 

The Sudanese government declared a state of emergency and curfew, between 6:00 pm to 6:00 am, on Wednesday in Atbara city, which is a five-hour long drive from the capital city of Khartoum. 

"The state’s security committee held a meeting on the events and announced a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in the city of Atbara until further notice," Ibrahim Mukhtar, a spokesman for the state government, told the local Ashorooq TV channel.

Sparked by Sudan’s growing economic woes, reduced flour subsidies have caused bread prices to increase from 1 Sudanese pound to 3 (approximately 2 to 6 cents). Sudanese are generally complaining about living conditions as the country experiences intermittent shortages of both fuel and food.

With inflation in the country running close to 70 percent – one of the world’s highest rates – the currency has taken a plunge in value, and the cost of some essential commodities have more than doubling in the last year. The country’s economy took a hit since South Sudan seceded in 2011, taking with it the lion’s share of oil, once a major export. 

Local media said hundreds of university and high school students supported the protests against the government’s policies.

The local headquarters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) had reportedly also been set on fire, although there has been no official statement on the incident so far.

“I went out to protest because life has stopped in Atbara,” a 36-year-old man, who participated in Wednesday’s demonstration and asked not to be named, told Reuters on Thursday. 

He said he had not been able to buy bread for four days because it was no longer available in the shops. 

“Prices have increased and I have still not been able to withdraw my November salary ... because of the liquidity crisis. These are difficult conditions that we can’t live with, and the government doesn’t care about us.”

In January, people took to streets over the 2018 budget. A high school student in West Darfur State was shot dead by the police in the protests and several dozen opposition activists were arrested.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Moataz Moussa announced to parliament on Wednesday a 15-month emergency economic-reform plan, including “further strict austerity measures” on October 24.

The austerity plan aims to reduce the average inflation, stabilize the exchange rate of the currency.

However, the austerity plan cannot avoid people from streets where are protests on high costs of living.

Spot checks with traders and market vendors showed that over the past month the cost of a kilo of flour has risen 20 percent, beef 30 percent and potatoes 50 percent. Sudan’s inflation stood at more than 68 percent in September, one of the world’s highest rates. 

In last month, the government bolstered flour subsidies to try to contain the impact on bread.

Removal of the US sanctions

Despite of the US lifting 20-year-old economic sanctions against Sudan in October by citing progress on counter-terrorism and improvement on human rights, the country’s economy failed to gain strength.

The US president Donald Trump removed the US trade embargo and other penalties that had isolated Sudan from much of the global financial system.

However, Sudan will stay on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism alongside Iran and Syria, which carries a ban on weapons sales and restrictions on the US aid.

Some of Sudanese officials blame the US for not saying that there is no risk for doing business in the country.

Some others think the Sudanese government has used the sanctions as an excuse for economic failure in recent years.

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