OMDURMAN, Sudan (Reuters) - One person was killed when anti-government protests and clashes with police erupted in five Sudanese cities on Tuesday, witnesses and police said, as public discontent grew over the lifting of fuel subsidies.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, in power since 1989, has avoided the sort of Arab Spring uprising that has ousted autocrats in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, but dissent is rising over corruption and a worsening economic crisis.
More than 2,000 demonstrators took to the streets in several parts of Khartoum and its twin city, Omdurman, across the Nile, shouting “no, no to price increases”, “freedom, freedom” and “the people want to overthrow the regime”.
Protesters torched an office of Bashir’s National Congress Party in Omdurman, blocked several roads, burned tires and stoned police officers who were firing teargas into the crowd, witnesses said. Clashes lasted for more than six hours until after midnight in several areas of the capital and Omdurman.
Police said in a statement that one person had killed an unnamed man who had tried to steal from him during riots and “unlawful gatherings” in Khartoum province. Activists on social media dismissed the claim and accused government forces of having killed a protester.
No more details were immediately available about the incident. It was the second confirmed dead since protests broke out on Monday when the government almost doubled the price for petrol and cooking gas to try to rein in a budget deficit.
Several hundred police officers could be seen in Khartoum’s streets late at night.
In Nyala, the second-largest city in Sudan’s western Darfur region, some 2,000 students demonstrated against the government, witnesses and activists told Reuters by phone. Many hurled rocks at police, who fired teargas.
Protests also broke out in Wad Madani and al-Manaqil in Gezira state south of Khartoum with hundreds of people yelling “no to price increases”.
Police said a 23-year-old man was killed during a protest in Wad Madani on Monday but blamed unidentified gunmen opening fire from a passing vehicle that demonstrators had stoned, state news agency SUNA said. Again activists dismissed the government version and blamed government forces.
The lifting of the subsides is expected to fuel inflation, hitting the poor hard. Sudan produces too little to feed its 32 million people.
The economy has been in turmoil since losing three-quarters of its oil reserves - its main source of revenue and of dollars for food imports - when South Sudan became independent in 2011.
The Khartoum government started reducing some fuel subsidies in July 2012, prompting several weeks of modest protests that ended with a security crackdown.
Tuesday’s protests were larger than last year’s marches but still small compared to those seen in Egypt or other Arab countries. Sudan’s opposition parties, run by older men, are weak, divided and have little appeal for young people demanding drastic democratic changes.
Sudan had hoped to maintain other fuel subsidies by boosting gold exports to replace oil revenues, but it was thwarted by the recent fall in global gold prices.
The government says annual inflation eased to 23.8 percent in July from 37.1 percent in May but independent analysts put the actual rate at 50 percent or even higher.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Eric Beech