KHARTOUM (Reuters) - At least eight people were killed in protests across Sudan on Thursday as thousands took to the streets against soaring prices, with some calling for the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir, officials and witnesses said.
Six died in the eastern city of al-Qadarif and two more in northern Nile River state, officials from those areas told Sudania 24 TV, without giving details on how they were killed. There was no immediate comment from the central government.
Police fired teargas to break up a crowd of around 500 people in the capital Khartoum, then chased them through back streets and made arrests, a witness said.
Some of the demonstrators chanted: “The people want the fall of the regime” - a slogan used in the “Arab Spring” protests that unseated rulers across the Muslim world in 2011. Police said “limited” protests in Khartoum had been contained.
Public anger has been building over price rises and other economic hardships - including a doubling in the cost of bread this year and limits on bank withdrawals.
In the northern city of Dongola, protesters set fire to the local offices of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party, witnesses said. To the northeast in Atbara, they hid their faces behind scarves as they came out for a second day, chanting “freedom” and setting car tyres alight, video footage showed.
The demonstrations were among the biggest since crowds came out against cuts to state subsidies in 2013, when many also called for a new government - a rare act in a state dominated by the army and security services.
Authorities declared a state of emergency in al-Qadarif, which is near the border with Ethiopia, and extended one in Atbara to the cities of al-Damir and Berber.
“The situation in al-Qadarif has become dangerous and the protests have developed to include fires and theft and it’s now out of control,” its independent MP, Mubarak al-Nur, told Reuters. He said he was related to one of the protesters who died.
Sudan’s economy has struggled to recover from the loss of three quarters of its oil output - its main source of foreign currency - since South Sudan seceded in 2011, keeping most of the oilfields.
The United States lifted 20-year-old trade sanctions on Sudan in October 2017. But many investors have continued to shun a country still listed by Washington as a state sponsor of terrorism, whose president is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of masterminding genocide in Darfur - charges he dismisses.
Bashir, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, took power in an Islamist and military-backed coup in 1989. Lawmakers this month proposed a constitutional amendment to extend term limits that would have required him to step down in 2020.
In recent months he has dissolved the government, named a new central bank governor and brought in a package of reforms, but the moves have done little to contain an economic crisis.
The latest violence erupted in Atbara on Wednesday, where crowds also set fire to the ruling party’s office.
“I went out to protest because life has stopped in Atbara,” said a 36-year-old man who asked not to be named.
He said he had not been able to find any bread in the shops for four days.
“Prices have increased and I have still not been able to withdraw my November salary ... because of the liquidity crisis. These are difficult conditions that we can’t live with, and the government doesn’t care about us,” he told Reuters.
At 69 percent, Sudan’s inflation rate is among the world’s highest. Severe shortages have forced people to queue at bakeries and petrol stations.
In October, Sudan sharply devalued its currency after the government asked a body of banks and money changers to set the exchange rate on a daily basis.
The move led to further price increases and cash shortages, while the gap between the official and black market rates has continued to widen.
“The protests began peacefully and then turned to violence and vandalism (on Wednesday),” Hatem al-Wassilah, governor of Nile River state, which includes Atbara, told Sudania 24 TV.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Additional reporting and writing by Lena Masri and Yousef Saba; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Raissa Kasolowsky and Andrew Heavens