Sudan police fire teargas as thousands demand Bashir quit

KHARTOUM Sat Sep 28, 2013 1:14pm BST

People look at burning cars during protests over fuel subsidy cuts in Khartoum September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

People look at burning cars during protests over fuel subsidy cuts in Khartoum September 25, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese police on Saturday fired teargas to break up thousands of protesters who were calling President Omar Hassan al-Bashir a killer, witnesses said, after days of unrest in which dozens of people have died.

Daily demonstrations this week followed the government cutting fuel and cooking gas subsidies on Monday when pump prices doubled overnight.

Four protesters were shot dead by unidentified gunmen on Friday, police said, bringing the official death toll to 33.

In Khartoum's Burri district, home to a top government official, more than 1,000 people gathered for the funeral of one of the victims, Salah Mudahir Sanhuri, a doctor from a prominent merchant family with ties to the government.

Within half an hour the crowd grew to over 3,000 people, many of whom were shouting "Bashir, you are a killer" and "Freedom, freedom," witnesses said.

Police fired teargas into the crowd several times.

On Friday, more than 5,000 people demonstrated in Khartoum, the biggest turnout in central Sudan for many years. Its borderlands have grappled with insurgencies for decades but the relatively wealthy heartland has seen little turmoil in the recent past.

Police said in a statement unknown gunmen had opened fire on a group of protesters on Friday, killing four people.

Khartoum has been brimming for days with armed civilians and security personnel carrying rifles, patrolling streets in broad daylight and manning rooftops. Opposition activists have accused Bashir's National Congress Party of vandalism and of arming militias to turn the public against the protesters.

The protests are much larger than last year's dissent after the government started cutting fuel subsidies but are still tiny compared to masses ousting rulers in Egypt, Libya or Tunisia.

WEAK OPPOSITION

Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 coup, has not faced the sort of Arab Spring uprising that unseated autocratic rulers from Tunisia to Yemen since 2011, but anger has risen over corruption and rising inflation in the vast African country.

He has stayed in power despite rebellions, U.S. trade sanctions, an economic crisis, an attempted coup last year and an indictment from the International Criminal Court for war crimes. He still enjoys support from the army, his ruling party and many business men.

Analysts say Sudan has not seen an Arab spring because of a weak and divided opposition populated by former rulers, which is seen as out of touch with young people. Many opposition leaders have ties to the government such as Umma Party chief, former prime minister Sadeq al-Mahdi, whose son is Bashir's assistant.

The subsidy cuts have been driven by a severe financial crunch since the secession of oil-producing South Sudan in 2011, which deprived Khartoum of three-quarters of the crude output it relied on for state revenues and food imports.

Amnesty International and the New York-based African Center for Justice and Peace Studies said at least 50 people had been killed by gunshots to the chest or head by Thursday night, citing witnesses, relatives, doctors and journalists.

(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Louise Ireland and David Evans)

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