22 killed in Sudan protests, opposition leader claims

Sudan experts said the protests reinvigorated the opposition as much as they seem to have surprised authorities.
Saturday 22/12/2018
Sudanese leading opposition figure Sadiq al-Mahdi addresses his supporters, in Khartoum, on December 19, after he returned from nearly a year in self-imposed exile. REUTERS
Higher toll. Sudanese leading opposition figure Sadiq al-Mahdi addresses his supporters, in Khartoum, on December 19, after he returned from nearly a year in self-imposed exile. REUTERS

LONDON – Protests in Sudan over the rising cost of bread claimed 22 lives, Sudanese opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi said, although officials gave a lower death toll.

A government decision to triple the price of a loaf of bread to 3 Sudanese pounds ($0.06) sparked demonstrations across the country. The protests erupted December 19 in the eastern city of Atbara and spread to Al-Qadarif, to Khartoum, Omdurman and other areas.

Two demonstrators were killed in Atbara and six others dies in Al-Qadarif, officials said on December 20, as protesters torched offices of the ruling National Congress Party of President Omar al-Bashir.

Mahdi, however, claimed “22 people were martyred and several others wounded.”

Government spokesman Bashar Jumaa warned that authorities would not be “lenient” with demonstrators who set buildings on fire or cause other damage to public property.

Speaking December 22 in Omdurman, Mahdi said the protest movement “is legal and began because of the deteriorating situation in Sudan.” He said demonstrations will continue to rock Sudan.

It was Mahdi’s first news conference since he returned to Sudan December 19 after almost a year in exile. Mahdi was Sudanese prime minister from 1966-67 and again from 1986-89. His government was the last democratically elected in Sudan but was toppled in a 1989 coup led by al-Bashir.

Fire burning during protests against price increases in Atbara, Nile River state in northeastern Sudan December 20, 2018. REUTERS
Fire burning during protests against price increases in Atbara, Nile River state in northeastern Sudan December 20, 2018. REUTERS

Since then Mahdi’s Umma Party has acted as Sudan’s main opposition group and has regularly campaigned against the al-Bashir’s policies.

Sudan has been facing a mounting economic crisis over the past year. Prices some commodities have more than doubled, inflation is close to 70% and the pound has plunged in value.

Shortages were reported for the past three weeks in several cities, including Khartoum.

Protests broke out in January 2018 over the rising cost of food but they were brought under control after the arrest of opposition leaders and activists.

Sudan’s national news agency SUNA reported December 22 that al-Bashir appointed a senior officer from the powerful National Intelligence and Security Services as governor of Al-Qadarif. Mubarak Mohammed Shamat will replace Mirghani Saleh who was killed in a helicopter crash December 9, SUNA said.

Sudan analysts said the protests reinvigorated the opposition as much as they seem to have surprised the authorities. Demonstrators have been protesting increased prices but also calling for the “fall of the regime.”

The government blocked social media applications December 21 to hinder mobilisation efforts by students and political activists. Classes have been suspended in Khartoum province until further notice.

(With Agence France Presse)