Protests over worsening economic conditions resumed Saturday for a fourth consecutive day, with thousands taking to the streets in a string of Sudanese cities, including the capital Khartoum.
The continuing unrest is striking in a country where any potentially serious threat to President Omar Bashir’s 29-year Islamic rule has been brutally quashed. The ongoing protests have taken on an increasingly political slant, with demonstrators calling on the Sudanese leader to step down and chanting slogans against what they see as rampant corruption under the watch of the general-turned-president.
Saturday’s unrest came as Bashir fired the governor of Gadaref, a province in eastern Sudan that is home to six of the nine demonstrators who died Thursday in clashes with police, according to Sudan’s state news agency.
The agency said schools have been indefinitely closed in a province north of Khartoum and in North Darfur province west of the capital, where classes have also been suspended. Authorities also placed the eastern cities of Kosti and Rabak under curfew following acts of “sabotage” targeting government offices there, according to the agency.
The protests are mostly about rising prices and shortages of food and fuel. There has also been a liquidity crunch that forced authorities to limit bank withdrawals and caused long lines at ATMs. A devaluation of the Sudanese pound in October caused a significant spike in inflation, which now stands at around 60 per cent, in some cases doubling the price of basic goods.
Bashir came to power in a 1989 military coup backed by Islamists. It overthrew a democratically elected but dysfunctional government led by then prime minister Sadeq al-Mahdi, who triumphantly returned to Sudan earlier this week after a year of self-imposed exile. Thousands of supporters received him.
Saturday’s protests took place in several Khartoum suburbs, the railway city of Atbara north of the capital and in northern Kordofan in western Sudan. Activists flooded social media networks with video clips purporting to show protesters running away as the sound of gunfire rings out or of security men beating up detained protesters with canes.
Some photos posted online purported to show protesters apparently shot by police being carried away by fellow demonstrators. Others showed protesters lying on the street in a pool of blood.
Bashir has in the past ordered the use of force against protesters, successfully crushing them while continuing his political survival to become one of the longest-serving leaders in the region. Although his time at the helm has seen Sudan plunging into one crisis after another, he is seeking a new term in office. Lawmakers loyal to him are already campaigning to rally support for constitutional amendments that would allow him to run in the 2020 election.
Soon after he seized power in 1989, Bashir sought to militarily end a long-running civil war against guerrillas from the mainly animist and Christian south. His war policy led to more bloodshed, further fatigued the economy and encouraged discontented communities like the African tribes of Darfur in western Sudan to take up arms for a larger share of the country’s national resources and put an end to perceived discrimination by the Arabized and Muslim north.
The south seceded in 2011, and with that, the Khartoum government lost about three-quarters of its oil wealth. A year earlier, Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur, but the Sudanese leader continued to be a welcome guest at several Arab and African nations. Last week, he made a surprise visit to Syria, becoming the first Arab leader to visit the strife-torn country since the civil war began there in 2011.
Sudan’s economy has struggled for most of Bashir’s rule, which has failed to unite or keep the peace in the religiously and ethnically diverse nation. In his latest bid to secure economic aid, he has strengthened ties to oil-rich Gulf Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia. He has sent Sudanese troops to Yemen to fight alongside a Saudi-led coalition backing the government there against Iran-aligned rebels in a civil war that broke out in 2014.
Bashir has also curbed relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional archrival, to win the goodwill of Riyadh and its Gulf Arab allies. He also mended relations with Egypt, his powerful neighbour to the north, after a period of tension mostly because of a long-running dispute over an Egyptian-held border area claimed by Sudan.
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