Sudan cracks down on students protesting against living costs

Police at the University of Khartoum on Sunday.
 
Sudan’s economic woes have led university students angry with the steep rise in the cost of living to protest in the streets of the capital for the past five days, with no signs of relenting. As the demonstrations become increasingly tense, students are now even calling for the overthrow of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s government.
 
The protest movement began on the Khartoum University’s central campus on Saturday and soon spread to other campuses across the capital, despite the police’s crackdown on the demonstrations.
 
Riot police use tear gas to disperse protesters in Khartoum on Sunday.
 
On Monday, the third day of protests, students gathered in the centre of Khartoum chanting “the people want lower prices”. Determined to quell the unrest, riot police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse the protestors. The opposition organisation Sudan Change Now claims that plain-clothes agents from the intelligence services have also been taking part in the crackdown against protestors. In a recent statement, the organisation described the current unrest as “some of the worst violence Sudan has seen in a number of years”.
 
The police claim that the protestors are a threat to national security, and have stated that a number of students have been arrested for stirring up trouble and attacking private property. They did not specify the exact number of arrests.
 
Protestors leave the University of Khartoum on Monday.
 
In spite of these demonstrations, President al-Bashir announced on Monday a series of new austerity measures aimed at strengthening the country’s battered economy. Until recently, Sudan was a major oil exporter; however, it lost three quarters of its oil revenues when South Sudan - where most of the oil wells are located - split away and became a new country last July. According to official figures, inflation reached 28% in April and 30% in May, but some economists believe that the real figure is in fact more than 40%. Severely short of funds, the government plans to increase taxes, make drastic cuts in public spending, and gradually abolish fuel subsidies.
 
Photo taken in front of Khartoum University by our Observer, Mimz, on June 17.
Contributors

"I’ve seen pro-regime students walking around with knives and iron bars. They want to stop us from protesting peacefully"

Mimz is a blogger and human rights activist in Khartoum. She has been involved in this protest movement since it began and regularly posts photos of the demonstrations on Twitter.
 
On Saturday evening, in response to the first protests, the security forces went to the women’s residence halls, where the demonstration had started. They verbally insulted the female students and hit them with batons. Witnesses claim that the officers were accompanied by student members of the NCP, the ruling political party. [Over the past few years, there have been incidents at the university involving pro-regime students who have been accused of taking the law into their own hands.] I myself have seen some of these students walking around campus with knives and iron bars.
 
Security forces intervene in the protests at Khartoum University on Sunday.
 
In one of the streets near the university, I saw a group of pro-regime students trying to intimidate the students who wanted to protest peacefully. It must have worked, because on Monday pro-regime students took control of several buildings on the central campus that had been occupied by demonstrators the day before.
 
"This economic slump was not caused by the partition of Sudan. The government just simply didn’t plan ahead."
 
Going out and demonstrating is very risky. Yesterday I saw the police violently beating two students right in front of my eyes, and I met lots of people who had been injured in the clashes. [Activist groups have reported cases of people fainting or vomiting due to the tear gas.]
 
I’ve also heard that the NISS (National Intelligence and Security Services) ransacked the premises of the opposition movement HAQ yesterday evening and arrested about 40 people, including several of my friends. I fear that these people have been kidnapped. This is one of NISS’s tactics: they kidnap activists who are heavily involved in protest movements and torture them. This has already happened to a few of my close friends.
 
This video of clashes between students and riot police (1'58 min), posted on Sudan Motion’s Facebook page, is described as having been filmed during the past few days near the University of Sudan.
 
Prices are so high today that most people cannot afford to take the bus. [The price of a traditional Sudanese meal has more than doubled in the past year]. And with the latest subsidy cuts, consumers will be worse off than ever.
 
I don’t believe that this economic slump was caused by the partition of Sudan. The oil is theirs now, and there’s no point thinking about getting it back. The government just simply didn’t plan ahead. [According to experts, Sudan has not diversified its economy and has no industries that can make up for the loss of petrol revenues in the short term].
 
Protests continued at the University of Khartoum on Tuesday.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.

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