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Sudan stands firm on fuel rise despite deadly protests

01 october 2013, 11:00
0
Sudan vowed Sunday to stand firm on fuel price hikes, despite days of deadly protests and criticism from war veterans, hardline Islamic leaders and from within the ruling party itself, AFP reports.

Authorities say 33 people have died since petrol and diesel prices jumped last Monday, sparking the worst protests in the history of President Omar al-Bashir's two-decade reign.

Activists and international human rights groups say at least 50 people were gunned down, most of them in the greater Khartoum area.

The real toll is difficult to determine but "could be as much as 200," a foreign diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"They are shooting to kill," and the government has "stepped over a line," disgusting many Sudanese, he added.

"They've lost any last vestiges of respect they had for this government."

Police in Port Sudan on the Red Sea fired tear at about 400 mostly student protesters opposed to the regime and its fuel price policy, witnesses said.

An older man was seriously injured when he was crushed by a security forces vehicle, they said.

Arab Spring-style calls for the regime's downfall began after pump prices soared last Monday by more than 60 percent.

But despite the unrest, Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman told AFP there was no going back on the fuel price increases.

"This is the only way out," he said in a telephone interview, adding that the government knew "riots" would occur but could not sustain the cost of billions of dollars in subsidies.

"Our economy cannot tolerate such support," he said. "We have to carry on. We know it is a bit heavy for the people."

He added that authorities were forced to intervene when crowds turned violent.

"This is not (a) demonstration," he said. "They attacked the gas stations. They burned about 21."

Media censorship worsens

Sudan's most popular newspaper, which criticised the decision to cut subsidies, meanwhile said it had been ordered to stop publishing.

Al-Intibaha is run by Bashir's uncle, Al-Tayeb Mustafa, who told AFP that state security agents gave no reason for the suspension.

Journalists have complained of worsening censorship since the protests began.

Sudan lost billions of dollars in oil receipts when South Sudan gained independence in 2011, taking with it about 75 percent of the formerly united country's crude production.

Since then the north has been plagued by inflation, a weakened currency and a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.

The country falls near the bottom of a United Nations human development index measuring income, health and education.

It also ranked among the lowest of 176 countries in Transparency International's index of perceived public sector corruption last year.

Officials in the Khartoum area on Sunday extended a school closure, in effect since the protests began, until October 20, official media said.

Classes had been expected to resume on Monday.

Residents say they have been struggling with rising prices for two years. Yet until last week, when thousands began protesting mainly in the capital, the poor had largely failed to take to the streets.

The middle class has also joined the demonstrations. "I think that's what rattled the government more," the diplomat said.

A group of veterans from Sudan's 1983-2005 civil war with now-independent South Sudan on Sunday urged a "national transitional government" and asked its members to join peaceful demonstrations.

The group, Al-Saihun, came to prominence last year with calls for new national leadership and a return to Islamic values.

Reformers in the ruling National Congress Party on Saturday told Bashir that the deadly crackdown was a betrayal of his regime's Islamic foundations.

Islamic hardliners also called on the government to reverse the fuel price increase. An organisation of Salafist and other religious leaders advised the regime "to turn back to God and provide justice."

Bilal said that even though fuel subsidies have been cut, financial support will remain on wheat and medicine. Other measures which aim to ease the burden of higher fuel prices include cash payouts to hundreds of thousands of poor families, he said.

The opposition Umma Party led by Sadiq al-Mahdi on Sunday said it stood with the protesters and urged all opposition parties to take to the streets and remove the regime.

The Communist Party called for sit-ins, while the opposition Baath Party said six of its leaders were arrested at their homes on Saturday night.

Activists say Sudan's opposition is divided, and its ageing leadership fails to generate much enthusiasm among the wider populace.

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