Over 800 protesters arrested in Sudan demonstrations: minister

Sudanese protesters chant slogans during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Khartoum on January 6, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 07 January 2019
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Over 800 protesters arrested in Sudan demonstrations: minister

KHARTOUM: More than 800 protesters have been arrested in anti-government demonstrations held across Sudan since last month, a minister said Monday, as hundreds gathered at a rally backing President Omar Bashir.

Deadly protests have rocked Sudan since Dec. 19, when unrest first broke out over a government decision to raise the price of bread.

Authorities say at least 19 people including two security personnel have been killed in clashes during the demonstrations, but rights group Amnesty International has put the death toll at 37.

Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman on Monday gave details to Parliament of arrests made during the protests and violence that marked several rallies.

“The total number of protesters arrested until now is 816,” Osman said.

The figure was the first given by officials for those detained since the rallies erupted initially in towns and villages and later spread to the capital Khartoum.

Osman told lawmakers there had been a total of 381 protests reported since Dec. 19.

He said that 118 buildings were destroyed in the protests, including 18 that belonged to police, while 194 vehicles were set on fire including 15 that belonged to international organizations.

“The demonstrations began peacefully, but some thugs with a hidden agenda used them to indulge in looting and stealing,” the minister said, adding that the situation across Sudan was now “calm and stable.”

Protests broke out when the government raised the price of a small loaf of bread from 1 Sudanese pound to 3 (from 2 to 6 US cents).

Several buildings and offices of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) were torched in the initial violence.

Sudanese authorities have launched a crackdown on opposition leaders, activists and journalists to prevent the spread of protests.

Sudan has been facing a mounting economic crisis over the past year led by an acute shortage of foreign currency.

The cost of food items and medicines has more than doubled and inflation has hit 70 percent.

Food and fuel shortages have been regularly reported across several cities, including Khartoum.

Most anti-government rallies have been spearheaded by professionals like doctors, teachers and engineers, but they have been swiftly broken up by riot police firing tear gas at protesters.

On Monday, crowds of protesters gathered in the city of Port Sudan but they were quickly dispersed by riot police, witnesses said.

As the anti-government unrest rumbled on, the first rally backing Bashir was held in the eastern city of Kassala.

Hundreds of people from Kassala and neighboring towns and villages gathered in front of the local governorate to express their support for Bashir.

Several supporters were carrying banners that read “Bashir, we want you to stay,” witnesses said.

“We want Bashir as president in order to maintain security in the country,” Mohameddin Issa, a resident of Kassala participating in the rally told AFP by telephone.

“Security is the top priority, after that comes food ... but I also believe that the problem of food will be solved soon.”

Bashir’s supporters also took to social networks Twitter and Facebook to back the rally in Kassala.

“The rally in Kassala shows how popular the government is and how safe the country is,” Ibrahim Al-Siddiq, spokesman of NCP wrote in a post online.

Authorities are holding a similar pro-regime rally in Khartoum on Wednesday.

Bashir has dominated Sudan for three decades since coming to power in 1989.


Sudan protesters, police clash as anti-Bashir unrest spreads

Updated 18 January 2019
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Sudan protesters, police clash as anti-Bashir unrest spreads

  • Worst clashes in Khartoum’s Burri district
  • rotests spread to six other cities
KHARTOUM: Stone-throwing Sudanese demonstrators battled security forces in Khartoum on Thursday, witnesses said, and a child and a doctor were reported killed at the start of a fifth week of protests against President Omar Al-Bashir’s 30-year rule.
Protests also broke out in six other cities in some of the most widespread disturbances since the unrest began on Dec. 19. The Sudan Doctors’ Committee, a group linked to the opposition, said the doctor and child were killed by gunshot wounds during the violence.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of a government-affiliated private hospital in Khartoum’s Burri neighborhood, where activists said the two died of their injuries. The protests continued into early Friday. Demonstrators chanted: “Freedom” and “Until the morning, we’re staying,” video footage showed.
Police could not immediately be reached for comment on the reported deaths.
The protests were triggered by price rises and cash shortages, but have quickly developed into demonstrations against Bashir.
In the day’s most violent clashes, police in Burri fired rubber bullets and tear gas and chased demonstrators with batons, witnesses said. Several people were overcome with tear gas, while some were bruised by rubber bullets and others beaten.
Hundreds of young men and women blocked streets and alleyways with burning tires, witnesses said. Some hurled stones at security forces. Many recited the chant that has become the crying call of demonstrators: “Down, that’s it,” to send the message that their only demand is Bashir’s fall.
Demonstrators also taunted security forces by ululating each time a stone-throwing demonstrator hit police, witnesses said.
A live video posted on social media and verified by Reuters showed security forces pointing guns at protesters in Burri. A sound of gunfire could be heard.

‘Why are you shooting?’
In the video, a demonstrator yelled: “Why are you shooting?” as protesters, some wearing masks as protection from tear gas, ducked to avoid the firing. It was not clear if rubber or live bullets were used. One man who appeared to be injured and had spots of blood on his shirt was carried away.
“There were people shooting at us,” one protester told Reuters.
He said he saw five people fall to the ground, adding he was not sure if they were hit by rubber or live bullets. He said he saw a few other injured people being carried away. Security forces blocked the area and the wounded were unable to reach a hospital, he said.
Instead they were being treated in a makeshift emergency room inside a home. At some point, security forces approached the makeshift clinic and fired tear gas into it as the wounded were being treated, three witnesses said.
A police spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the witnesses’ account of the Burri clashes.
Hundreds also protested in Al-Qadarif, Atbara, Port Sudan, Al-Dueim, Omdurman and Al-Ubayyid, drawing tear-gas volleys from police, witnesses said.
Security forces have at times used live ammunition to disperse demonstrations. The official death toll stands at 24, including two security forces personnel. Amnesty International has said that more than 40 people have been killed.

”Bashir blames foreign ‘agents’
Bashir has blamed the protests on foreign “agents” and said the unrest would not lead to a change in government, challenging his opponents to seek power through the ballot box.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Thursday that she was deeply worried about reports of excessive use of force by Sudanese security forces.
“The government needs to ensure that security forces handle protests in line with the country’s international human rights obligations by facilitating and protecting the right to peaceful assembly,” said Bachelet, a former Chilean president.
Sudan has struggled economically since losing three-quarters of its oil output — its main source of foreign currency — when South Sudan seceded in 2011, keeping most of the oilfields.
The protests began in Atbara, in northeastern Sudan, a month ago when several thousand people took to the streets after the government raised bread and fuel prices to reduce the cost of subsidies.
Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges, which he denies, of masterminding genocide in the Darfur region, had been lobbying to be removed from the list of countries, along with Syria, Iran and North Korea, that Washington considers state sponsors of terrorism.
That listing has prevented an influx of investment and financial aid that Sudan was hoping for when the United States lifted sanctions in 2017, according to economists.
Sudan has been rapidly expanding its money supply in an attempt to finance its budget deficit, causing spiralling inflation and a steep decline in the value of its currency.
Sudan’s inflation rate increased to 72.94 percent in December from 68.93 percent in November, state news agency SUNA said.