Protesters demonstrate in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman yesterday after the government announced steep price rises for petroleum products after suspending state subsidies as part of crucial economic reforms.
KHARTOUM: Violent protests against the Sudanese government’s decision to scrap fuel subsidies raged into a third day yesterday as public transport ground to a halt and riots broke out in parts of Khartoum.
The protests, which have cost the lives of seven people, have escalated into the worst in Sudan since President Omar Hassan Al Bashir seized power in 1989.
Demonstrations spread yesterday to several districts of the capital, some of them near the centre, witnesses said. “Freedom, freedom,” and “The people want the fall of the regime,” chanted the protesters, many of them students, borrowing the refrain of the Arab Spring protests which toppled several governments in 2011.
Police fired tear gas at stone-throwing demonstrators. Shops were shut in Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman, with several roads cut by protesters who burnt tyres, sending black smoke billowing into the sky, and blocked access with tree trunks.
The education ministry said schools in the capital would remain shut until September 30. Internet access was cut off all over Sudan after activists began sharing images of the unrest on social media, although the cause of the outage was not immediately clear.
Vehicles were burned in the car park of a luxury hotel just 500 metres from the international airport, and a petrol station in the area was also set alight. Police made around 20 arrests and sealed off a section of the main road to Khartoum airport.
In Khartoum North, a witness said six cars were torched, as public transport across the capital ground to a halt. “Now I have to walk 10km,” said Ahmad Amer, on his way home from work.
Two people have been killed in riots in the Khartoum area, police and the family of one of the victims said. A third person was killed south of the capital on Monday.
The protests erupted in response to the government’s announcement of steep price rises for petroleum products as it suspended subsidies in a bid to reform the economy.
On Tuesday, protesters ransacked and then torched offices of the ruling National Congress Party in Omdurman, witnesses said. Around 1,000 demonstrators spilled into Omdurman’s heavily populated Al-Thawra district and were confronted by anti-riot police. The Omdurman protests lasted until around dawn yesterday.
“Most areas in Khartoum (province) saw unrest and unauthorised gatherings aimed at damaging property and allowing looting, necessitating police intervention,” a statement said.
The protests first broke out in Wad Madani, in Gezira state south of Khartoum, scene of the first death on Monday. They have also spread to Nyala, capital of South Darfur state. A Nyala resident said that thousands of students filled the streets of the city and blocked a main road.
Bashir said on Sunday night that remaining subsidies would be lifted, but did not give details or a timeline. The next morning, prices of petrol, petrol and cooking gas nearly doubled.
Oil prices at the pump have shot up to 20.80 Sudanese pounds ($4.71) a gallon from 12.50 pounds ($2.83), while diesel has risen from 8.50 pounds a gallon to 13.90 pounds. Inflation in Sudan is already running at 40 percent.
Bashir said the subsidies had reached “a level that is dangerous for the economy”. Sudan lost billions of dollars in oil receipts when South Sudan gained independence two years ago, taking with it about 75 percent of the formerly united country’s crude production.
Since then Sudan has been plagued by inflation, a weakened currency and a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.