Mon, Dec 24, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Sudan opposition leader condemns protesters’ deaths

AFP, OMDURMAN, Sudan

Former Sudanese prime minister and leader of the opposition Umma Party Sadiq al-Mahdi, center, is surrounded by supporters as he sits in a mosque in Omdurman, Sudan, on Wednesday last week.

Photo: AFP

Sudan’s main opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi on Saturday 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 Sudan government decision to increase the price of a loaf of bread from 1 Sudanese pound to 3 pounds (US$0.02 to US$0.06) has sparked demonstrations across the country since Wednesday.

“We condemn the armed repression of demonstrations,” said al-Mahdi, leader of the Umma Party, at a news conference in Omdurman on the west bank of the Nile River.

While officials give a lower death toll, al-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.

Two demonstrators were killed in Atbara and six others in al-Qadarif, officials had said Thursday, as protesters torched offices of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

Mahdi called for a “national and international investigation” into the deaths, adding that 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, al-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 al-Bashir.

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

According to witnesses, demonstrations on Saturday spread to several more cities. About 300 people gathered in the center of Wad Madani, southeast of Khartoum, “chanting ‘the people want the fall of the regime,’” one witness told reporters by telephone.

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

In El Rahad southwest of Khartoum, hundreds of demonstrators shouting “no to hunger” were tear gassed, while administrative premises and the office of the NCP were set on fire, another witness said.

North of the capital in al-Obeid protesters clashed with police who fired tear gas, witnesses told reporters.

Government spokesman Bashar Jumaa on Friday said 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.

Youssef said that 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 percent and the Sudanese pound has plunged in value, while shortages have been reported for the past three weeks across several cities, including Khartoum.

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