Sudan Protesters Demand Al-Bashir Step Down Amid Shortages

(Bloomberg) -- At least eight people have been killed across Sudan, officials said, as demonstrations against soaring prices and shortages rock the capital and other cities, with protesters burning tires and demanding President Umar al-Bashir step down.

A state of emergency was declared in Gadaref state, which borders Ethiopia, after about six people died and many others were injured, local commissioner Altybe Alamin said late Thursday in a statement.

In Nile River state in central Sudan, two protesters were killed and others wounded, according to regional spokesman Ibrahim Mukhtar. Neither gave details on the circumstances. Sudania 24, a television station, said Khartoum state schools will be suspended from Sunday, when the working week starts.

In Khartoum, residents have blocked some streets and are burning tires, chanting against the government and calling for al-Bashir’s exit, said Husameldin, a local resident who asked that his surname not be used because of concerns about government reprisals. The demonstrations come after increases in bread prices, with people already queuing for hours for bread and motor fuel.

Sudan has been roiled by sporadic protests in 2018 as currency devaluations and cuts in subsidies have sent living costs rocketing. The U.S. last year lifted most sanctions it imposed on the country in the late 1990s.

‘No Place to Hide’

Dissent has been “brewing for a while, but it was possible for President al-Bashir to blame it on external forces, especially the U.S. sanctions for the difficult domestic economic situation,” said Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, a U.S.-based specialist on the Horn of Africa. “Now that the sanctions have been lifted, there is no place to hide.”

Authorities this week also declared a state of emergency in the central city of Atbara after protesters set fire to the ruling party’s main office and the city government’s headquarters. Al-Bashir has led the country since ousting former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in a coup in 1989.

The government said in a statement Friday that it allows the freedom to demonstrate, but alleged “the protests have deviated from their track and some saboteurs have targeted public property including government buildings and police stations.” It didn’t comment on any casualties. An internet outage since Thursday has curbed social-media use in the country.

Root Causes

“These killings must stop,” Amnesty International said in a statement. The government “must address the root cause of the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in the country instead of trying to prevent people from fully exercising their right to protest.”

Protests by tens of thousands of people have taken place in at least 13 towns with nine people shot dead over the past two days by security forces, Amnesty said.

The Umma Party, Sudan’s largest official opposition group, in a statement urged its members to take to the streets to help bring down the government. Al-Mahdi, its leader, returned to the country this week after months abroad.

“How the administration handles this will be critical,” said Halakhe. “If instead of listening and changing, they begin clamping down, that could exacerbate the already precarious situation.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.