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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 April 2019

Sudan opposition leader says 22 killed in bread protests

Increase in cost of commodities and plunge in Sudanese pound have sparked demonstrations across country

Sadiq Al Mahdi, Sudan's ex-prime minister and leader of the opposition Umma Party, prays in a mosque in the capital Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman. AFP
Sadiq Al Mahdi, Sudan's ex-prime minister and leader of the opposition Umma Party, prays in a mosque in the capital Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman. AFP

Sudan's main opposition leader Sadiq Al Mahdi has blamed "armed repression" for the death of 22 people in days of protests over the rising cost of bread, although officials gave a lower death toll.

A government decision to increase the price of a loaf of bread from 1 Sudanese pound (Dh0.08) to 3 three Sudanese pounds has sparked demonstrations across the country since Wednesday.

"We condemn the armed repression of demonstrations," said Mr Mahdi, leader of the Umma Party, during a press conference on Saturday in Omdurman on the west bank of the Nile.

While officials gave a lower death toll, Mr Mahdi said "22 people were martyred and several others wounded". He gave no further details regarding the death toll, which could not be independently verified.

The protests first erupted in the eastern city of Atbara before spreading to Al Qadarif, also in eastern Sudan, and then to the capital Khartoum and twin city Omdurman and other areas.

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Two demonstrators were killed in Atbara and six others in Al Qadarif, officials said on Thursday, as protesters torched offices of President Omar Al Bashir's ruling National Congress Party.

Mr Mahdi called for a "national and international investigation" into the deaths and said demonstrations would continue to rock Sudan.

The protest movement "is legal and was launched because of the deteriorating situation in Sudan", he said in his first news conference since returning home on Wednesday after almost a year in exile.

A fixture of Sudanese politics since the 1960s, Mr Mahdi was prime minister from 1966 to 1967 and again from 1986 to 1989.

His government was the last one to be democratically elected in Sudan, before it was toppled by a 1989 coup launched by Mr Bashir.

Since then, Mahdi's Umma Party has acted as Sudan's main opposition group and has regularly campaigned against the policies of the government.

A bonfire is lit along the street during protests against price increases in Atbara. Reuters 
A bonfire is lit along the street during protests against price increases in Atbara. Reuters 

According to witnesses, demonstrations spread on Saturday to several more cities.

Around 300 people gathered in the centre of Wad Madani, south-east of Khartoum, "chanting 'the people want the fall of the regime'," one witness said.

Police responded with teargas and by hitting the protesters with batons, he said.

In El Rahad, south-west of Khartoum, hundreds of demonstrators shouting "no to hunger" were also met with tear gas, while administrative premises and the office of the NCP were set on fire, according to another witness.

North of the capital in Al Obeid protesters clashed with police who fired teargas, witnesses said.

Government spokesman Bashar Jumaa had on Friday warned that authorities "will not be lenient" with those who set state buildings on fire or cause other damage to public property.

Opposition members have also been detained, according to Sadiq Youssef from the National Consensus Forces alliance.

He said 14 members of the coalition, including its president, Farouk Abu Issa, were arrested as they left a meeting.

The arrests could not be officially confirmed.

The demonstrations follow a year of mounting economic woes in Sudan, where the cost of some commodities has more than doubled.

Inflation is running at close to 70 per cent and the Sudanese pound has plunged in value, while shortages have been reported for the past three weeks across several cities including Khartoum.

Demonstrations broke out in January over the rising cost of food, but they were soon brought under control with the arrest of opposition leaders and activists.

A presidential adviser, Faisal Ibrahim, said the latest protests were being manipulated by "organised entities", without naming particular groups. He said two of those killed in Al Qadarif were military in civilian clothes.

Also on Saturday, Sudan's national news agency Suna reported that Mr Bashir appointed a senior officer from the powerful National Intelligence and Security Services as governor of Al Qadarif.

Mubarak Shamat will replace Mirghani Saleh, who was killed in a helicopter crash on December 9, Suna said.

Updated: December 23, 2018 10:45 AM

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