Protests rock Sudan's capital as bread prices soar

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Government austerity measures, which dramatically increased price of basic goods, spur widespread protests

Bread prices have skyrocketed since the government began implementing austerity measures (AFP)
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Wednesday 17 January 2018 13:58 UTC
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KHARTOUM - Large protests rocked Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Tuesday in opposition to the government's recent austerity measures, which devalued its currency and removed wheat subsidies, causing the price of bread to spike.

Opposition groups vow that protests will continue until the government reinstitutes policies that subsidise (and lower) the price of basic goods, including bread. The protests began sporadically earlier in January after the government endorsed the 2018 budget that lifted subsidies on flour and electricity, and devalued the local currency.

According to eyewitnesses, police forces suppressed the protests using tear gas and batons and arrested dozens of people.

Video obtained by Middle East Eye showed police striking people with batons.

Activists told Middle East Eye that Tuesday’s protest is the biggest and the most organised since the demonstrations began.

Sudanese opposition parties, under the leadership of the communist party, have led the protests and called for the removal of President Omar Bashir, who has led Sudan for 29 years. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

From where I stood, I saw security men on backup vehicles arresting the protesters and beating them

- Sara Ismail, eyewitness

An eyewitness, Ahmed Abdul Gadir, told MEE that “more than 5,000 people have defiantly gathered in Khartoum's downtown streets, chanting anti-government slogans”.

“The protesters have gathered in many streets downtown, including the streets of al-Gamhuria, al-Baladiya, al-Gasr, al-Hurriya, al-Gama’a and Jackson Square - the central bus station in the capital."

Sara Ismail, another eyewitness, told MEE that the police have cracked down on protesters using tear gas and batons.

“From where I stood, I saw security men on backup vehicles arresting the protesters and beating them,” she said.

Sudanese Communist Party spokesman Ali Saeed told MEE on Tuesday that police have arrested dozens of protesters.

“We have reported that more than 60 protesters have been arrested and other political leaders were detained and the detention campaign is still ongoing,” Saeed said.

“Our leading member Siddig Youssef has been also detained,” he added.

Saeed said protesters will continue to demonstrate “against the economic suffering of our people, against the war and against the human rights violations”.

Protest expansion

The demonstrations have morphed into an amalgamation of different causes. Other opposition parties, youth and women movements joined the protests, voicing their discontent with Bashir.

The National Umma Party said in a press release on Tuesday that they will join the protests and promised to organise another march on Wednesday in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum.

“We had a big meeting on Monday, attended by representatives of many political parties and we agreed to organise another march on Wednesday in Omdurman. We will do our best to expand the protests until we end the suffering of our people,” it stated.

The “No violence against women” organisation also announced its support for the protests, saying in a press release on Tuesday that they formed an umbrella group with seven other women groups.

“As women's movements, we would like to express our full support to the peaceful protests against the economic measures that hit our people,” the umbrella group said in a statement.

MEE called a police station and other government officials, but didn’t get a comment at the time of publication.

Austerity measures

Government austerity measures also included ending its wheat imports, delegating that to private companies, which has driven up prices.

Sudan is adopting economic reforms based on International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommendations, which are aimed at restructuring the country's economy after losing much of its oil resources when South Sudan separated in 2011.

Sudan’s minister of finance, Mohamed Osman Alrikabi, said earlier this month that Sudan is unable to benefit from the lifting of longstanding US sanctions and noted that his country still has no access to the global financial system.

However, the government has insisted on pushing ahead with the economic measures despite mounting protests.

We will not be changing the policies and measures of the 2018 budget

- Mubarak al-Fadil, Sudan's Minister of Investment

After meeting with parliament, the Sudanese cabinet on Monday vowed to forge ahead with the recent economic measures.

Sudanese Investment Minister Mubarak al-Fadil said after the meeting that the government will not change the budget for 2018.

“We will not be changing the policies and measures of the 2018 budget,” al-Fadil stressed.

Sudanese economic expert Mohamed Alanair told MEE on Tuesday that the problems with Sudan’s economy are chronic and that the 2018 budget fully privatises the market without any mechanism to control the prices of essential commodities, which has led to price spikes of basic goods.

“The policies adopted by the government are behind this deterioration, so unless the government revises its 2018 budget, the situation will worsen and spiral out of control,” the economics professor said.

He further said that the government should adopt short-term strategies to achieve temporary economic stability in the market.

“The only solution is to adopt short-term plans, including the stoppage of local currency drops, containing the sharp increase of inflation, decreasing public sector expenses and fighting corruption,” he said.