KHARTOUM: Sudanese police fired tear gas yesterday to disperse hundreds of people protesting in a state capital against the lifting of petrol subsidies by veteran President Omar Hassan Al Bashir.
The government almost doubled prices for fuel and cooking gas yesterday to bring its budget under control. The Arab African country lost three-quarters of its oil reserves — its main source of revenues and of dollars for food imports — when South Sudan became independent in 2011.
Within hours of petrol stations adjusting their price displays, some 800 protesters gathered in the centre of Wad Madani, capital of Gezira state south of Khartoum, shouting “No, No to price hikes”.
Others called on Bashir to resign, yelling “go, go”.
Police arrived, firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Late on Sunday, Bashir held a televised news conference lasting two hours to defend his abolition of fuel subsidies. He promised to use much of the money saved to help the poor and increase salaries for civil servants.
But many Sudanese have grown impatient with years of what they see as economic crises caused by mismanagement and US trade sanctions.
“The government ... has no idea of what people are going through. I am ready to join any protest against the lifting,” said 41-year old Ahmed Iassan, an unemployed worker.
A 45-year university professor said he would struggle to make ends meet with the fuel price hikes. ‘I really want to leave Sudan,” he said, asking not to be named.
The government started reducing some fuel subsidies in July 2012. Several weeks of small protests ended with a security crackdown.
It had hoped to sustain the remaining support by boosting gold exports to replace oil revenues, but was thwarted by the recent fall in global gold prices.
Petrol stations in the capital Khartoum raised the price of a gallon (3.8 litres) of petrol yesterday to 21 pounds (almost $3 based on black market prices), from 12 pounds.
A gallon of gasoline now costs 14 pounds, up from 8.5 pounds, petrol station staff said. The prices for a cylinder of cooking gas rose to 25 pounds from 15 pounds.