Thousands protest corruption, economic hardship in northeast Sudan

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters in Atbara city in northeastern Sudan rallied against rising food prices and corruption on Thursday, chanting anti-government slogans and setting fire to car tires as police tried to disperse them with tear gas.

A bonfire is lit along the street during protests against price increases in Atbara, Nile River state in northeastern Sudan December 20, 2018. REUTERS/El tayeb Siddig

Economic conditions in Sudan have deteriorated sharply in recent months. A decision to reduce bread subsidies earlier this year sparked rare nationwide protests after prices doubled. Inflation now stands at 69 percent and severe shortages of fuel and bread have forced people in the capital and other cities to queue at bakeries and petrol stations.

At a demonstration in Atbara attended by hundreds on Wednesday, protesters set fire to the local headquarters of the ruling party, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency and a curfew.

“I went out to protest because life has stopped in Atbara,” a 36-year-old man, who had participated in Wednesday’s demonstration and asked not to be named, told Reuters on Thursday.

He said he had not been able to buy bread for four days because it was no longer available in the shops.

“Prices have increased and I have still not been able to withdraw my November salary … because of the liquidity crisis. These are difficult conditions that we can’t live with, and the government doesn’t care about us.”

Smaller protests were also held in the cities of Dongola, Sennar and al-Qadarif on Thursday, residents said. In Dongola, protesters set fire to the local headquarters of the ruling party, and at a local market shop owners closed their stores.

In Atbara, historically a center of anti-government protests, protesters who used scarfs to cover their faces chanted “freedom” and set car tires alight.

“Protesters are walking in most of the city’s streets,” a Reuters witness in Atbara said. “They are chanting against corruption and expensive prices and asking for freedom, peace and justice.”

Sudan’s economy was hit hard when the south of the country seceded in 2011. With the secession, Sudan lost three-quarters of its oil output, a crucial source of foreign currency.

In October, Sudan sharply devalued its currency after the government asked a body of banks and money changers to set the exchange rate on a daily basis.

The move led to further price increases and a liquidity crunch, while the gap between the official and black market rates has continued to widen.

“The protests began peacefully and then turned to violence and vandalism,” Hatem al-Wassilah, governor of the Nile River state, said of Wednesday’s demonstrations on Sudania 24 TV.

Prime Minister Motazz Moussa said on Wednesday that Sudan’s 2019 budget included 66 billion pounds ($1.39 billion) in subsidies, 53 billion of which was for fuel and bread.

Additional reporting and writing by Lena Masri; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Raissa Kasolowsky

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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