Sudan deploys troops in Khartoum as demonstrations turn violent

Six demonstrators died in the eastern city of al-Qadarif and two others were killed in Nile River state.
Friday 21/12/2018
A fire is lit during protests against price increases in Atbara, Nile River state in northeastern Sudan, December 20. (REUTERS)
Tensions rising. A fire is lit during protests against price increases in Atbara, Nile River state in northeastern Sudan, December 20. (REUTERS)

CAIRO – Sudan deployed troops in Khartoum and other cities after eight demonstrators were killed in clashes with riot police during protests against rising bread prices and fuel shortages. Some protesters called for the overthrow of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Six people died in the eastern city of al-Qadarif and two others were killed in northern Nile River state, officials from those areas told Sudania 24 TV, without giving details. There was no immediate comment from the central government.

Police fired teargas to break up a crowd of approximately 500 people in Khartoum, then chased them through back streets and made arrests, a witness said. Some demonstrators chanted: “The people want the fall of the regime.” Police said “limited” protests in Khartoum had been contained.

Bread prices have more than tripled in Sudan in 2018 after the government stopped importing wheat. Officials had hoped to create competition between private companies importing wheat, which would serve as a check on price rises. However, many bakeries have stopped production, citing a lack of flour. This forced the government to increase flour subsidies 40% in November.

Even with the increase in subsidies, bread prices tripled to 3 Sudanese pounds ($0.06) and triggered violent protests across the country.

In the northern city of Dongola, protesters set fire to the local offices of al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party, witnesses said. To the north-east in Atbara, they came out for a second day, chanted “freedom” and set car tyres alight, video footage showed.

The demonstrations were among the biggest in Sudan since protests against state subsidies cuts in 2013, when many also called for a new government — a rare act in a state dominated by the army and security services.

Authorities declared a state of emergency in al-Qadarif, which is near the border with Ethiopia, and extended one in Atbara to al-Damir and Berber.

“The situation in al-Qadarif has become dangerous and the protests have developed to include fires and theft and it’s now out of control,” independent MP Mubarak al-Nur said.

Following the protesters’ death, a Sudanese government spokesman said nationwide protests had been exploited by “infiltrators.”

“Peaceful demonstrations were derailed and transformed by infiltrators into subversive activity targeting public institutions and property, destroying and burning some police headquarters,” spokesman Bishara Jumaa said in a statement released by the official Sudan News Agency.

He did not name anyone but he said protesters were being exploited by opposition parties.

“Some political parties emerged in an attempt to exploit these conditions to shake security and stability to achieve their political agenda,” Jumaa said. He did not identify the parties.

He said the demonstrations had been “dealt with by police and security forces in a civilised way without repression or opposition.”

Since 2011, following the South Sudan break from Sudan, Khartoum has been struggling to recover from the loss of three-quarters of the country’s oil exports. Prior to the split, Sudan had substantial economic growth driven by oil exports and foreign direct investment, with nominal GDP per capita more than quadrupling from 1999-2010.

Sudan’s growth was heavily reliant on oil, however, and when oil revenues dropped and austerity measures were introduced, the country lost more than 15% of its GDP in 18 months.

The United States lifted 20-year-old trade sanctions on the country in October 2017 but many investors continued to shun Sudan, still listed by Washington as a state sponsor of terrorism and whose president is wanted by the International Criminal Court regarding charges of masterminding genocide in Darfur, charges al-Bashir dismissed.

In October, Sudan sharply devalued its currency from 29 pounds to the dollar to 47.5 pounds to the dollar after banks and money changers set the country’s exchange rate. The move led to further price increases and a liquidity crunch and the gap between the official and black market rates has continued to widen.

Sudanese Prime Minister Motazz Moussa said inflation for 2018 was expected to be 63% but Sudan’s annual inflation edged up to 68.93% in November from 68.44% in October.