Sudan austerity protests spread after Friday prayers

Reuters News
|
Posted: Jun 22, 2012 11:51 AM
Sudan austerity protests spread after Friday prayers

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese security forces broke up demonstrations across Khartoum on Friday as the six-day-old protests against government spending cuts expanded beyond the base of student activists who have dominated them so far, witnesses said.

Reuters correspondents and witnesses reported at least seven protests across the capital after Friday prayers, including in several neighborhoods that had been quiet, a significant increase over previous days.

About 400 to 500 protesters began chanting "the people want to overthrow the regime" as they left the Imam Abdel Rahman mosque in the suburb of Omdurman, activists and two witnesses said.

As security forces gathered, the protesters called for the police to join them, chanting: "Oh police, oh police, how much is your salary and how much is a pound of sugar?"

The police fired tear gas and then used batons as they clashed with the protesters, who threw rocks. Witnesses said men in civilian clothes also attacked the demonstrators.

Police were not immediately available for comment.

Sudan has faced soaring inflation since South Sudan seceded a year ago - taking with it about three quarters of the country's oil production - and activists have been trying to use public frustration to build a movement to topple the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Khartoum's Imam Abdel Rahman mosque is one of Sudan's largest and most famous. It is known as a center of support for the opposition Umma party.

Large demonstrations have been relatively rare in Sudan, which has avoided the "Arab Spring" protest movements which swept through neighboring Egypt and Libya. Security forces usually quickly disperse protests.

But government moves to cut spending to plug a budget gap - including scaling back fuel subsidies - sparked a spate of small demonstrations this week.

At another protest in Omdurman, about 100 people chanted "Freedom, freedom" until police fired tear gas to disperse them.

Police also fired tear gas to break up separate protests in two central Khartoum neighborhoods that had not previously seen protests, witnesses said. The demonstrators burned tires at one of the protests, a witness said.

Unlike previous days, when the demonstrations were led largely by students, the protesters on Friday appeared to encompass a broader segment of the capital's population.

Two small protests also broke out in the northern suburb of Bahri, which police dispersed with batons, activists said. A witness confirmed the account.

A group of about 40 people joined one protest in Bahri, but stopped amid a heavy security presence, while around 100 people burned tires at the other protest until the police broke them up them.

Sudan had been supposed to continue collecting some revenues from South Sudan's oil because the landlocked new nation has to export its crude through the north.

But the two failed to set a price, and South Sudan shut down its production in January after Khartoum started confiscating some oil.

African Union-brokered talks in Addis Ababa have so far failed to yield a settlement.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Myra MacDonald)