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Sudan’s clampdown on Friday protests triggers confrontation with opposition parties

June 30, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Sudanese authorities used excessive force to break up several demonstrations that erupted following Friday’s prayer in sporadic parts of the capital Khartoum and 12 regional towns, in the latest crackdown on the wave of dissent that has been gripping the country for the past two weeks.

Protesters march toward the city center in Omdurman, across the river from Khartoum, on Friday 29 June (Twitter/Yousif Elmahdi)

Large numbers of police and plainclothes security forces deployed heavily in various parts of Khartoum and around Mosques as tension loomed ahead of what anti-regime activists called “the elbow licking Friday” for mass protests against the government of President Omer Al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

The name “elbow licking” stems from the expression “lick your elbow” which the NCP vice-chairman Nafie Ali Nafie used in the past to say those seeking to overthrow the party are attempting the impossible.

The first and strongest protest, according to activists, took place in Wad Nubawi area in Omdurman, the bastion of the Ansar religious sect of the National Umma Party (NUP) led by Former Prime Minister AL-Sadiq al-Mahdi.

Police forces surrounded Wad Nubawi mosque as thousands of worshipers arrived. The situation grew in intensity when Al-Mahdi, flanked by hundreds of his supporters, arrived in the mosque to chants of regime falls.

Al-Mahdi addressed the worshipers and said that Sudan was now at a crossroad after the current Islamist regime failed.

He stated to the disappointment of many worshipers who expected him to lead the demonstrations that efforts were still underway to agree on an alternative to the regime.

“But as we agree on the alternative, we will organize sit-in in all parts of Sudan” he said, adding that the right to hold sit-ins is guaranteed under the law and constitution”

Al-Mahdi however warned the authorities against the use of violence saying it will breed violence and lead Sudan into the same situation as Syrian. The veteran opposition leader then exited the mosque under tight security.

Eye witnesses reported that security forces fired teargas inside the mosque before worshipers could march out. Police forces later used batons and rubber bullets to disperse around 300 protesters who took to the street, inflicting injuries on some of them, the witnesses said.

Wad Nubawi protests, which lasted for 8 hours during which protesters hurled rocks at security forces, shortly spilled over to other parts of Omdurman, including Ombada area, where thousands of protesters blocked main roads.

One eye witness told that plainclothes security agents known as “Rabata” were very violent with the protesters. He said that they beat everyone who was carrying a mobile phone and arrested a number of journalists including an AFP cameraman while they covered the events.

A tense protest gathers in Bahri, a district of Khartoum just across the Blue Nile, on Friday 29 June (Twitter/Moez Ali)

Simultaneously, demonstrations erupted in Shambat and Al-Haj Youssef areas in Khartoum North town known as Bahri, where police and security agents armed with machetes clashed with hundreds of protesters. Eye witnesses told Sudan Tribune that police forces in Al-Haj Youssef disobeyed orders to fire at the protesters, forcing security agents to attack them with machetes and light arms.

Protests also erupted in the evening in parts of Khartoum town including Al-Kalakla and Al-Deim.

The protests were not limited to Khartoum. In Madani, the provincial capital of AL-Jazzera State, hundreds of protesters burned tires, blocked roads. The towns of Al-Obayid and Al-Nuhud in North Kordofan State also witnessed protests in which many activists were arrested by security forces.

An official with the Islamist opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP), who asked not be named, that security authorities had arrested four middle-rank leaders of the party during Al-Oabeid protests and two during the protests in Madani.

He said that two other PCP members were arrested in Khartoum on Thursday’s night. According to him, more than 15 PCP members most of whom are youth have been arrested so far.

Meanwhile, the secretary of the NCP’s organization department, Amar Bashari, told the pro-government Al-Shoroog Satellite TV channel on Friday that the protests were organized by opposition parties.

He accused the opposition of trying to ignite sedition and mislead citizens. The NCP official stressed that what opposition parties are allegedly doing is “against the law.”

The Secretary-General of the armed rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), Yasir Arman, issued a statement on Thursday saying that ousting Al-Bashir’s regime will directly serve the interest of the Sudanese economy and the living conditions of ordinary citizens.

According to Arman, the ongoing “uprising” will reach its logical conclusion in the fall of the regime and lead to the creation of a democratic alternative.

The current protest movement was triggered by government plans to end fuel subsidies as part of what officials say are an austerity package that includes drastic cuts in government size and expenditure in order to make up for a budget deficit of 2.4 billion US dollars.

Initially started by students at Khartoum University on 16 June, the protests widened over the following days to incorporate many other sectors of the society and reach towns beyond the capital.

Sudan’s economy has been grappling with rising inflation, which hit 30 percent in May, and a depreciating currency since the country lost 75 percent of oil production with South Sudan secession last year.

BREAKING NEWS: Sudan’s ’elbow-licking’ protests start amid reports of crackdown

June 29, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Protests broke out as planned following Friday prayer’s in different parts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum as well as two regional towns amid reports of severe crackdowns by police and security forces.

First outbreak of demonstrations was reported in Wad Nubawi Mosque in Khartoum’s sister-city of Omdurman where around 300 protesters including members of the Ansar sect of the opposition National Umma Party (NUP) started chanting slogans calling for the downfall of the government as soon as the prayer ended.

Witnesses said that police forces supported by plain clothed security agents fired heavy teargas and rubber bullets on the protesters inside the mosque.

Activists say that the protests are currently spreading across other parts of Omdurman, including Ombada area.

Simultaneously, protests erupted in Al-Haj Youssef and Shambat neighbourhoods in Khartoum North, also known as Bahri, where activists say police and security agents are firing heavy tear gas and arresting protesters.

Activists are also reporting that demonstrations erupted following Friday prayer in the central market in Kassala town in the eastern region as well as in Al-Obayid town in North Kordofan State.

The current protest movement in Sudan started two weeks ago as the government moved to implement a set of anti-austerity measures including cuts of fuel subsides in order to make up for what officials say is a budget deficit of $2.4 billion US.

Since then, the protests have been widening with protesters across several parts of the country burning tires, blocking roads and chanting slogans calling for the downfall of the government.

More updates to follow.

Tension looms in Sudan before Friday protests

June 29, 2012 (KHARTOUM) — Tension continued to grow in Sudan on Thursday amid calls to demonstrate after Friday prayer by activists who want to mark a turning point in the mobilization of the Sudanese people in way to be strong and defiant enough before to overthrow the regime.

Sudanese opposition supporters demonstrate in Khartoum against the electoral law on 7 Dec 2009 ( file/Reuters)

On the other side, internet and communication companies shut down since midnight the mobile telephone and internet networks to complicate communications during Friday demonstrations and to hamper the moblisation.

Last Friday for the first time students were joined by other social forces in the protests opposed to the lifting of fuel subsidies and the increase of indirect taxes.

The interior minister Ibrahim Ahmed Hamid told reporters on Thursday after a meeting with the vice-president Al-Haj Adam Youssef that security situation is calm in the country. He however said that the deputy president directed him to protect people and their properties from the "saboteurs".

Over 400 Sudanese lawyers organized Thursday a sit-in outside Khartoum and Omdurman courts complexes. The protesters held banners against restrictions of freedom of expression and the recent austerity measures.

Some lawyers said their sit-in was a "rehearsal" for another large sit-in they plan to hold next Sunday.

Sudanese activities allege that the "first martyr of the uprising" died on Thursday in a hospital after tear gas suffocation in Khartoum. They also warn protesters speculating that the security services mobilized some two thousand agents to quell any protest in the capital besides mobilization of the anti-riot police.

UMMA PARTY CALL FOR PEACEFUL PROTESTS

Sudan’s largest opposition party released a statement calling to demonstrate and to hold sit-ins peacefully after Friday prayer.

The press statement criticized the poor economic conditions in the country and accused the Sudanese officials of looting the public funds and denounced their implication in the rampant corruption.

On Wednesday, the party leader Sadiq Al-Mahdi who calls for a peaceful transition stressed on the need for comprehensive peace and he made it a prerequisite for political stability in Sudan. He also called to establish an "adult governance" and to establish positive external relations.

"All This can only be achieved under the new regime which we have been calling for," Mahdi said. He further added this regime should be established on a specific national agenda and conducted by a national team agreed by all the parties.

The former prime minister pointed out that the new regime will open a new page of regional and international relations allowing the country to end the current economic crisis and to implement development programmes through the funds allocated to Sudan by International donors but currently blocked because of Bashir’s regime.

Mahdi who proposes an all parties conference for peace and constitutional reforms says this solution can avoid war and troubles. He warned in the past months that the unrest might push rebels to intervene military in the revolt and this lead the country to chaos.

The rebel groups members of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) expressed their support to the peaceful protest in the country but warned they might only intervene if the regime use excessive violence to quell the protests.

Divergences among Sudanese opposition delay signing of political charter

June 27, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Strained relations between Sudanese opposition parties have prevented them once again from signing a common political platform and a constitutional framework for the interim period after the fall of the regime of President Omer Al-Bashir.

NCF chairman, Farouk Abu Eissa (C) talks to reporters while PCP leader Hassan Turabi (R) listens after a meeting held earlier this month (ST)

The National Consensus Forces (NCF) is composed of small political formations, Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), Popular Congress Party (PCP) of Hassan Al-Turabi, Umma National Party (UNP) of Sadiq Al-Mahdi and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Mohamed Osman Al-Mirghani but the latter joined a coalition government led by the ruling party last December.

The NCF forces failed in a meeting held Tuesday to adopt a text of the Democratic Alternative and the Constitutional Declaration aiming to administrate the country once the regime of the National Congress Party (NCP) is down.

PCP leader Hassan Al-Turabi left the meeting before its end after divergences over the participation of the Umma and DUP in the signing of the two texts, sources close to the meeting.

The Umma Party delegates at the meeting showed some reservations on the documents pretexting that the party chairman did not yet read it, the sources added.

Turabi who was angered by the remark said that his party will work hard to bring down the regime. He further stressed that the next change will be the property of the people and it will not be done by the political forces.

Later, the signing ceremony was adjourned to the next week "for more consultations".

Sadiq Al-Mahdi, head of the largest opposition party of Umma, is blamed by the opposition forces for his dialogue with the regime and his call for a comprehensive and inclusive process including the ruling NCP and the rebel groups. He is also slammed for his criticism against rebel groups who wage war in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Mahdi says only an inclusive constitutional conference, under the current conditions and after the independence of South Sudan, can allow to avoid chaos and dismemberment of the country.

Form his side the DUP leader who was the leader of the former opposition National Democratic Alliance decided to join the NCP in its first government after the secession of the South saying that the territorial integrity of the country is in danger.

Al-Mirghani was opposed the independence of South Sudan. He has troubled relations with the leadership of South Sudan ruling party, SPLM, after the death of his old friend and ally John Garang.

The Constitutional Declaration provides to establish a collegial head of state, Council of Sovereignty, a government and a legislative council that will lead the country during three years of the interim period.

Since the recent announcement of austerity measures by President Bashir, Sudan is witnessing a wave of protests in different towns across the country.

Last Friday, the capital Khartoum saw the participation of Sudanese from different social segments and areas in the demonstrations held after the Friday prayer. Youth and student groups launched a call for a greater mobilisation for next Friday which coincides with the 23th anniversary of Bashir coupd’etat of 1989.

The ruling party yesterday said it received an initiative from the Umma’s leader Sadiq Al-Mahdi to hold a conference for peace in Sudan.

NCP political secretary Hassabo Mohamed Abdel Rahman told Al-Intibaha newspaper on Tuesday that dialogue on the national agendas with the Umma party will continue.

Last week, Al-Mahdi repeated in a press conference that his party remains in the opposition despite criticisms but he emphasized on the need to reach an agreement preserving Sudan’s unity.

Taha describes Sudan’s protesters as “doom-mongers” ahead of planned demos on Friday

June 27, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan’s First Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha has described the country’s protesters as “doom-mongers” as they plan massive demonstrations on Friday.

Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Taha (Reuters)

Addressing celebrations of inaugurating a number of development projects in Sinnar State on Tuesday, Taha said that attempts by “doom-mongers” to mobilize the streets and topple the regime had failed because the public “understands” the nature of the reforms the government is undertaking to stimulate the economy.

Taha was referring to the protest movement that has been spreading across the country for the past ten days following the government’s ending of fuel subsides as part of what officials say is an austerity plan needed to make up for a budget deficit of 2.4 billion US dollars, created as a result of the loss of nearly 75 percent of the country’s oil production which was acquired by South Sudan when it seceded in July last year.

The protests, which were initially started by students, began to widen as of Friday, 22 June, spreading to several parts of the capital as well as regional towns including Al-Obayid in North Kordofan, Madani in Al-Jazzera State and Port Sudan in the Red Sea State.

In his speech, which was broadcast by state-owned television stations, Taha said that the government is determined to go ahead with its plans to save the economy from collapse.

He further claimed that the protesters had failed to appeal to the Sudanese people to support them because the people support the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

“Some doom-mongers in the states and Khartoum thought they could uproot the Tree [the logo of the NCP] but the people raced to water it with determination, loyalty and support to deepen its roots,” he said.

Taha’s attempt to undermine the protests follows that of his boss, President Omer Al-Bashir, who in an address on Sunday dismissed the protests as the work of “few agitators” and “alien bubbles.”

Another NCP official, Mustafa Osman Ismail, has described the protesters as “bats.”

On the other hand, Sudanese activists have been galvanizing support for a massive protest on Friday under the slogan “the Friday of elbow-licking”, in reference to the phrase “lick your elbow” which the NCP’s vice chairman, Nafie Ali Nafie, is famous for using to indicate the impossibility of something, as in uprising against the regime.

Meanwhile, the protests continued in several parts of the capital on Tuesday although in a smaller scale than previous days. Activists and anti-government groups say they are preparing for the biggest protest on Friday.

Sudanese activists say between 10,000 and 20,000 people have joined demonstrations in the capital Khartoum alone with several other thousands in the towns of Port Sudan in the Red Sea State, the town of Al-Gadaref in Al-Gadaref State, Kassala in Kassala State, Al-Obayid in North Kordofan State, Kosti in the White Nile State and Darfur.

The activists say they are aiming to end Al-Bashir’s rule by 30 June, the same day in which he seized power in an Islamist backed-coup 22 years ago.

Sudan’s Bashir sacks aides as regional governments resign except South Darfur

June 26, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan President Omer Al-Bashir on Monday issued a decree relieving nine of his advisers from their positions as part of a countrywide downsizing of executive authorities that saw entire regional governments tendering their resignations with the exception of South Darfur State whose government refused to step down.

FILE PHOTO - Sudanese Minister of Presidential Affairs Bakri Hassan Saleh takes the oath before the President Omar al-Beshir (L) in the capital Khartoum on 10 December 2011. (Photo: AFP - Ashraf Shazly)

The nine advisers include six from Al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and three from other parties participating in the government that was formed in December last year.

The most notable among the NCP’s sacked advisers are Ghazi Salah Al-Din, Ibrahim Ahmad Omer, Raja Hassan Khalifa and Farida Ibrahim whereas representatives of other parties include Ahmad Bilal Osman of the ex-opposition Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ahmad Hassan Mussad from the DUP-Original faction, and Al-Sadiq al-Hadi Al-Mahdi from the Umma Party-The Collective Leadership faction.

According to one of the sacked advisers, Ahmad Bilal Osman, the decree comes as part of ongoing efforts to “reform” the Sudanese economy.

Sudan is facing a budget deficit of 2.4 billion US dollars created as a result of losing 75 percent of its oil production – the lifeblood of the economy – after South Sudan seceded in July last year.

In response, the NCP-dominated government moved to implement a tough set of austerity measures which, according to officials, include a 30 percent cut in 2 billion US dollars of fuel subsidies as well as slashing the government’s bureaucracy by reorganizing the structures of executive authorities at federal and regional levels.

The austerity measures sparked widening street protests that have been going on for ten days so far.

Meanwhile, two regional governors have announced that their entire cabinet will resign to pave the way for the formation of a new government.

The government of Khartoum State already resigned last week in compliance with austerity plans, according to state media.

Mohammed Tahir Ila, the governor of the Red Sea State in the east, said on Monday that members of his cabinet had rendered collective resignations in order to enable him to form a new government that falls in line with the new austerity measures.

The governor made the announcement during an emergency cabinet meeting and instructed a number of ministers to run the state until a new government is formed “within the upcoming days.”

According to Ila, the new government in the Red Sea State will consist of 18 ministries and ten localities. He said he remains committed to including opposition parties in the new government line-up as well as to reducing the perks of constitutional office-holders and allocating only one car to each one.

Likewise, the deputy chairman of the NCP in East Darfur State, Hassan Mahmoud Ibrahim, announced on Monday that the state government will resign tomorrow, Tuesday, in response to the austerity measures.

Ibrahim explained that all ministers, mayors and advisers would tender their resignations to the state governor, Mohammad Fadul Allah, within 24 hours in order to enable the latter to form a “slender” government consisting of only eight ministries.

Hassan Mahmoud, however, said that the government members in neighboring South Darfur State had refused to resign without giving further details.

South Darfur State’s capital Nyala witnessed a wave of unrest when the central government sacked the state governor Abdel Hamid Musa Kasha in January this year.

Some analysts say that the NCP’s attempts at a regional and federal downsizing of the government may threaten the patronage network that the party itself has greatly relied on for survival since taking power more than 22 years ago

Bashir slams Sudan’s protesters as “bubbles”, vows continued crackdown

June 24, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – In his first response to the wave of protests that has been gripping his country for the past eight days, Sudan’s President Omer Al-Bashir sought to downplay the growing unrest and dismissed the protesters as “bubbles” who will be “dealt with.”

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses a working women’s state organisation on June 24, 2012 in Khartoum (GETTY)

Addressing a gathering of students affiliated to his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in the capital Khartoum on Sunday, Al-Bashir described the protesters as “aliens and bubbles” who failed to mobilize the streets.

His comments follow more than a week of protests that erupted on Sunday, 17 June, as the government moved to lift fuel subsidies as part of what officials say is an austerity package that includes downsizing of the government’s bureaucracy as well as cuts in the salaries and perks of senior state officials in order to make up for a budget deficit of 2 billion US dollars.

The protests, which were initially started by students against worsening economic conditions, gained unprecedented momentum in the following days as demonstrations spread to several parts of the capital as well as other towns including Al-Obaiyd in north Kordofana, Madani in Al-Jazzera State, and Port Sudan in the east.

The protesters burned tires, blocked roads and chanted slogans denouncing rising costs of living and calling for the downfall of Al-Bashir’s regime.

Police and security forces resorted to violence through the use of teargas, batons and rubber bullets to confront the demonstration amid reports sweeping arrests and severe injuries among the protesters.

Activists are reporting that a great number of students had sustained injuries during clashes around Khartoum University on Sunday with security forces and what they refer to as “Rapata”, a traditionalized Sudanese term for bandits, to describe plain-cloth NCP supporters who are armed with machetes and beat the protesters.

Al-Bashir, who was speaking in an undisguised agitation, said that the protesters were just a few “incited” individuals who are receiving no interaction from the public and will be “dealt with through institutions”

The Sudanese president said that he toured Khartoum in an open car on Friday, 22 June, and saw that the Sudanese street was not responding to the protesters.

He went on to call on students across the country not to pay attention to the “conspirators, traitors and collaborators”.

These are typically the terms Al-Bashir uses to describe associates of the rebel groups who are fighting his government in the regions of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

Al-Bashir said that those dreaming of an Arab Spring in Sudan will be disappointed. He added amid supportive chants from the NCP audience that his government has nothing to fear and is not ashamed of admitting its economic problems.

“We are not afraid of being overthrown by anybody. Not America or anyone else because it is Allah who gives the rule” he said.

Al-Bashir admitted that Sudan was facing an economic crisis but he added that efforts were being made to mitigate its effects.

He reiterated his defense of the government’s decision to end fuel subsidies, saying it’s because supporting this particular commodity only benefits the rich.

Sudan has been grappling with rising inflation, which hit 30 percent last month mainly on food prices, and a depreciating currency ever since the country lost nearly 75 percent of its oil, the lifeblood of the economy, with the secession of South Sudan in July last year.

Matters became worse in January this year when land-locked South Sudan decided to shut down its oil production rather than exporting it through Sudan’s pipelines following a bitter row over transit fees.

Sudan also experienced a hiatus in the production of oil extracted from its main field in Heglig when the disputed region was occupied by South Sudan for ten days in mid-April

Al-Bashir said that South Sudan’s decision to shut down oil production was “suicidal” and aimed at hurting Sudan. He added that recovering the economy requires tough treatment, stressing the necessity of reducing consumption and ending subsidies.

Protests continue in Sudan as the regime prepare to regain the street

June 24, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Protesters continued to take the street in the Sudanese capital and different other towns for eighth day on Saturday as the police authorities warned they will be dealt with severely.

A group of protesters burns tyres to lock a street in Khartoum (photo Al-Jazeera)

Khartoum, witnessed on Saturday demonstrations organized by hundreds of protesters in different areas of the capital including Jabra, Alsahafa, Khartoum-3, Alabbassiya, Umbada, Nile City, Al-Ozuzab, Shambat, Khartoum North-Alamlak. Protests were also organised in Kosti of White Nile state, Port Sudan, Gedaref and Al-Obeiyed capital of North Kordofan.

The protesters burned tyres, blocked the streets and chanted "the people want to overthrow the regime" leaving aside the anti-austerity slogans of the first days preparing Khartoum to experience what people used to watch in the TV from some Arab capitals.

The demonstrations in some areas of Omdurman and Khartoum and Khartoum North lasted up to the first hours of Sunday. While opposition sources reported the arrest of Satih Ahmed Al-Haj and Mohamed Dia-Edine of the Bath Party.

Activists also reported that police fired protesters in Al-Daim neighbourhood in Khartoum. They posted in the forums pictures of two youth allegedly injured by bullet in their legs and arms during a protest on Friday evening.

During the last week security services used teargas and batons to contain the student protests in the university campus and prevent it from taking the street.

Friday’s protest however changed the mobilisation as worshipers after Friday prayer participated in the protests.

Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) was seemingly confused by the protests because of the divisions among the party’s leadership over the lifting of oil subsidies also the visible lack of coordination among them on the economic measures affected their quick reaction.

However a NCP leading official told a Sudan Tribune journalist in Khartoum that the regime is able to resolve the "current security chaos" and revealed that security services received tough directives to counter the protests which he described as "limited and controllable".

The official who preferred to remain anonymous admitted the confusion that marred the performance of the ruling party during the past days and the absence of NCP officials from the media.

He however said the party held a series of meetings during the last 24 hours to determine a strategy to cope with the situation. He further said the party decided to hold political meetings to explain the security, economic, and political situation in the country.

He also denied rumours about the departure outside the country of some government officials with their families, reaffirming they will appear in the different meetings the party prepares to hold.

In the meantime, Khartoum state governor Abdel Rahman Al-Khidir denounced Saturday the burning of transportation buses and public buildings.

Khidir said the protesters set fire to two buses and a police car. He also said the rioters attempted to attack the Omdurman National Bank and police post in Al Sajjana neighbourhood.

Police general director general Hisham Osman El-Hussein, in a meeting held on Saturday, directed the police forces, according to the official SUNA, "to deal with riots as stipulated by the law, and at the same time to take decisive and strong measures to stop groups that target properties or plants or try to close the roads. "

The meeting with the police leadership, also discussed ways plans and measures to halt what they called "riots and sabotage".

Sudanese MPs outraged by surprise implementation of new fuel prices

June 22, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – In a tumultuous session on Thursday, members of parliament (MPs) in Sudan accused Finance Minister Ali Mahmoud of circumventing them after he implemented the decision to end fuel subsidies without waiting for their final approval.

Sudanese citizens were surprised on Wednesday when they found that the prices of fuel and Gasoline had already gone up to the levels specified by the minister few days ago – 12.5 pounds per fuel gallon and 8 pounds per Gasoline gallon – without there being an official announcement to such effect.

The increases in fuel prices come as a result of the government’s decision to end subsidization of the vital commodity as part of what officials say are wider austerity measures aiming to salvage the country’s ailing economy.

The austerity package had already been approved within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the Council of Ministers but the NCP-dominated parliament is yet to vote on the proposed measure.

Appearing before the parliament on Thursday, finance minister Ali Mahmoud faced a barrage of criticism from MPs who were outraged by the fact that the hikes had come into effect without their final approval.

The MPs heckled the minister with accusations that he had intended to embarrass the legislature by implementing the new prices without waiting for its official approval.

According to one MP named Abbas Al-Khidir, his colleagues feel “they have been greatly embarrassed and now we see the parliament as worthless.”

Some MPs went as far as calling for a vote of no-confidence on the minister for what they described as a violation of the constitution.

But the minister defended himself by saying that the surprise implementation of the decision was a precautionary move to prevent stockpiling of fuel products.

Ali Mahmoud has already come under MPs’ fire several times in the recent past. They previously faulted his economic policies saying it led to the current situation.

Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, who was present in the session, also defended the minister, saying that the authorities had decided to implement the new prices before the parliament approves them due to some intelligence indicating that fuel traders had started hoarding the commodity in order to make profit out of the price gap when the new increases are introduced.

Taha told MPs that the austerity measures are not about fuel subsidies alone, saying that the government had made more than 255 officials redundant. He added that there would be a 45 percent reduction in government bureaucracy.

The Vice-President also surprised the MPs by submitting an account of his monthly salary and perquisites, saying that his salary after deduction of taxes stands at 10.886 pounds monthly.

Taha stressed the need to “tighten the belt” and criticized what he described as excessive consumer behavior in the Sudanese society.

Sudanese opposition forces call to overthrow Bashir’s regime

June 21, 2012 (KHARTOUM) — Sudanese opposition forces slammed the recent austerity measures announced by Presient Omer Al-Bashir to overcome the severe economic and called to overthrow the regime.

Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir (Getty)

The call comes as students continue to protest against the government for the fourth day in Khartoum chanting "the people want to overthrow the regime" while the riot police use tear gas to break up the demonstration.

In different statements on Wednesday, the Sudanese opposition and rebel groups said regime policies led to the bankruptcy of the country and exacerbated the suffering of Sudanese people during the past years.

In a call to topple the regime, the Sudanese Communist Party said the plans announced by Bashir last Monday are only "administrative measures" that do not bring true and radical solutions to end the economic collapse the country is witnessing.

The communist party called on the Sudanese "to take to the streets to overthrow the regime", stressing the government did not leave any other alternative.

The opposition forces say the austerity plan announced by the government did not affect the huge budgets of the army, police, security apparatus, and sovereign sector which acquire 70% of wages and salaries line or 56% of the whole 2012 budget.

The communist party said only 30% of the budget is concerned with the drastic measures including the cut of 380 constitutional positions.

The opposition party went to explain that the recent salary increase the government decided will be swallowed up by the unprecedented hike in fuel and commodities prices.

Gahzi Salah Edeen, presidential adviser and head of the dominant NCP caucus in the National Assembly acknowledged Wednesday that the government started late to address the economic issues due to the war against rebel groups.

"If the other party refuses to stop the war, what do we do?" he further said; stressing that the economy is national security issue.

Justice and Equality Movement foreign relations secretary Ahmed Hussein Adam said in a statement he sent to Sudan Tribune that "what is happening in Sudan these days is the beginning of a true revolution" embracing their revolution in a critical historical moment.

He further renewed his call for" all the forces of change in rural areas of Sudan and its cities" and the armed forces to reunite their efforts to work with the rebel alliance, Sudan Revolutionary Forces (SRF), for the salvation of the country from the "authoritarian ruling junta" of Bashir.

He also called on the political forces to find out an exit strategy to achieve comprehensive peace, democracy, justice and unity. He further emphasized that the crisis is in essence a political crisis and there should be a comprehensive political solution.

SRF rebel groups refuse to hold separate talks on their respective regional issues and demand a comprehensive process to tackle Sudan’s crisis. They also say regime change is their main objecrtive.

Mubarak Al-Fadel Al-Mahdi, leading figure of the Umma National Party, called in a statement emailed  on the President Omer Al-Bashir to hand over the power to the army in order to achieve peaceful democratic transition in the country.

He went further to say that the army will remain in power for three months during which the military will hold a constitutional conference attended by the all the political forces and armed groups to adopt a new constitution and a national interim government.

This government, according to Mubarak, will end the armed conflicts in the country and normalize relations with the South Sudan before to achieve an economic and social unity and political cooperation as well.

The exiled deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Ali Mahmoud Hassenein, urged the regular forces to join the Sudanese people in its revolution against the regime.

"The armed forces which are the conscience of the nation do not take the side of tyrants but stand by the masses," he said.

He referred to the recent move of the Libyan army but avoided mentioning the current political tensions between the military and political forces in Egypt.

Impacted by the Arab spring, last January Sudanese protesters failed to keep up their demonstrations in the street as they were brutally stormed by the police and security forces.

The protests in Khartoum remain limited to the universities as the police tightened security measures to avoid its extension to the streets and the involvement of other sectors.

Sudan details hikes of fuel price as central bank promises injection of foreign currency

June 21, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese government on Wednesday revealed in greater details the increases it wants to introduce into the prices of fuel products.

Sudan is planning to implement an austerity package that will see subsidies on fuel commodities being terminated and government structures being slashed in order to make up for a huge budget deficit created by the loss of oil revenues with South Sudan’s secession last year.

Addressing the parliament, finance minister Ali Mahmoud said that the government had decided to hike the price of one gallon of fuel by 5 pounds and Gasoline by 2.5 pounds.

Mahmoud also said that the added value tax would be increased from 15 percent to 17 percent. He further added that all government-owned security companies would no longer be exempt from taxes and customs fees.

According to Mahmoud, subsidies on certain commodities such as Sugar would also be lifted.

The finance minister went on to reveal that the deficit in the amended 2012 budget has reached 3.6 percent, amounting to more than 2 billion US dollars.

Mahmoud indicated that the amended budget adopts a 4.4 exchange rate for the dollar in order to match its value in the black-market for hard currency. The minister said that the amended budget aims to bring the inflation rate down to 25 percent and to achieve a growth rate of 2 percent.

Sudan’s inflation rate jumped to 30 percent in May, mainly on food prices, as the local currency continued to reach new lows against the dollars. The dollar now trades for twice the value of the official rate in the black market.

Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Sudan (CBS) has announced plans to inject more foreign currency into the market as of next week in order to stabilize the exchange rate.

CBS said in a statement yesterday that the upcoming injection was made possible by the “great improvement” in the bank’s foreign currency reserves due to revenues generated from gold and “outside movements”

Sudanese officials have recently made a number of statements suggesting that the country had received great amounts of foreign currency from unidentified foreign countries.

Sudan has been struggling to contain the deteriorating value of its currency which trades at 5.5 against the dollar in the flourishing black market.

U.S. worries over Sudan’s crackdown on demonstrators, foreign journalist freed in Khartoum

June 20, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The United States voiced on Tuesday “deep” concerns over the violence with which Sudanese authorities have been responding to peaceful demonstrations against worsening economic conditions in the last three days.

FILE PHOTO - Sudanese women protestors shout slogans during a protest in Khartoum last year (AFP/Isam al-Haj)

“The United States is deeply concerned by the crackdown by the Sudanese authorities on peaceful demonstrators in Khartoum over the last three days” said a statement by the U.S. Department of State’s office of spokesman.

Demonstrations mainly led by students against rising costs of living have erupted in different parts of Sudan’s sprawling capital Khartoum as well as two towns in north and east of the country as of Sunday. Police forces resorted to the use of teargas and batons to break up the demonstrators and arrested dozens.

The protests follow announcements by the government of harsh austerity plans including termination of 2 billion USD in fuel subsidies as part of what official say are an attempt to confront the economic crisis that has been plaguing the country since it lost three quarters of oil revenues – the lifeblood of economy – with the secession of South Sudan in July last year.

“We call on the Government of Sudan to respect the right of its citizens to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly in order to raise their grievances” the U.S. statement added.

Meanwhile, another bout of protests broke out on Tuesday in Khartoum and its sister-city of Omdurman. The protests in Omdurman started around Al-Ahila University before spreading to other parts of town.

In response, police forces used teargas and rubber bullets, injuring and arresting a number of students.

Police authorities issued a statement saying that the demonstrations were “limited” and called on citizens to make “propagators of anarchy” miss their opportunity.

There have also been reports of plain-cloth individuals armed with metal rods participating in the crackdown on protestors.

Sudanese opposition groups, including the mainstream National Consensus Forces (NCF) and anti-government youth groups, vowed to continue the protests to force the government to reverse plans to lift fuel subsidies.

Meanwhile, security authorities in Khartoum arrested an AFP correspondent named Simon Martelli for twelve hours before releasing him today.

A Sudanese security official said that Martelli, a British national, was arrested when he was found talking to student protestors and taking photos. He declined to divulge more details.

The journalist arrest comes amid increased crackdown by Sudanese authorities on newspapers and individual journalists.

At least three papers have had their copies confiscated this week with some of them being ordered to bring their draft editions to security authorities for screening before publication.

The U.S. statement also said that Washington is concerned that “Sudanese authorities have increased pre-publication censorship of independent newspapers in recent weeks. We call on Sudan to respect freedom of expressing, including for members of the press, as guaranteed in the Interim National Constitution of 2005 and internationally recognized covenants to which the Government of Sudan is party.”

Bashir details harsh austerity plan before Sudanese lawmakers

June 20, 2012 (KHARTOUM) - President Omar Al-Bashir briefed Sudanese lawmakers on Monday about a series of structural reforms his government will undertake as part of austerity measures aiming to reduce public spending to overcome a severe economic crisis hitting the country.

President Omer Al-Bashir (Reuters)

The move comes amid student protests and calls by opposition parties and rebels as well to mobilise on the streets against the regime. Aware of this situation, Bashir focused yesterday on government plans to overhaul the large federal government and regional institutions.

Bashir told the legislators in his long speech that that at the national level, the government will reduce the number of advisers and other officials at the presidency and the parliament. He also said the size of the government will shrink.

Many ministries will be merged and deputy ministers will be relieved of their posts. The move also includes experts and officials in the cabinet ministry.

Regarding the regional governments and local administration, the rate of reduction will be "between 45 and 50 percent on the executive and legislative institutions respectively".

Bashir also said that the cut of fuel subsidies will be gradual, but without elaborating.

The cabinet is expected to hold a meeting on Tuesday to endorse these measures and to announce further details.

The ministers and officials of the government economic sector held a meeting yesterday where they prepared a series of decisions to be announced on Tuesday after an expected meeting of the cabinet chaired by President Bashir.

Some measures will be implemented directly but others require the vote of the parliament and will be submitted to the lawmakers before.

He further said the austerity reforms include the privileges of ministers and government officials, public spending, construction of new government buildings, and the privatisation of public companies.

The president pledged that his government will ease the impact of the austerity plan on poor families through a number of measures, such as the increase from 500,000 to 750,000 households benefiting from direct state support, and to allocate specific grants to poor workers and retired employees.

He also said essential commodities like wheat, and medicines will be exempted from importation taxes and duties.

Bashir also admitted that the fight against the rebel groups in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur has increased the spending of his government. But he vowed to defeat the "agents and mercenaries" who wage their proxy war with the support of South Sudan.

Student protests erupt in Khartoum and other Sudanese towns

June 18, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Sporadic demonstrations erupted Sunday in Sudan’s capital Khartoum as well as other parts of the country in protest against rising costs of living, drawing the usual violent response from police forces.

Eye witnesses told  that students from the University of Khartoum (UoK) took to the streets on Sunday chanting slogans calling for the downfall of the government before they were forced to retreat to the campus after the police confronted them with batons and heavy tear gas.

According to the witnesses, tension is still high in and around the area where UoK is located in downtown Khartoum.

Similar student protests took place on the same day at Shendi University in the Nile River State and the eastern town of Kassala.

A number of citizens also tried to stage a protest in the main bus station in Khartoum but the police managed to disperse them.

Khartoum police, since Saturday, meant to surround the universities and was deployed in the downtown to stop any attempt to mobilise the Sudanese street .

Sudan has largely escaped the contagion of popular uprisings that swept across the Middle East but continued worsening of economic conditions is threatening increased dissent.

The Sudanese police announced in a short communiqué released Sunday evening the arrest of seven people after a “limited student protest" at the education faculty , University of Khartoum.

The police further urged the Sudanese to not follow troublemakers and rumor mongers who "aim to destabilize the security".

The opposition National Consensus Forces (NCF) called through telephone text messages (SMS) on the Sudanese to wear textile bracelet for three days to express their rejection of the increase of prices.

The opposition alliance further called to stage a campaign of set-ins and civil disobedience throughout the country against the regime.

The NCF leadership organized a symbolic set-in last Tuesday in the Sudanese capital to show their opposition to the increase of fuel prices which is to be decided among other austerity measures.

The protests come ahead of plans by the government to end fuel subsidies as part of what officials describe as drastic austerity measures need to fill a budget gap of 2.4 billion USD.

Sudan’s economy has been grappling with soaring inflation and a depreciating currency since the country lost three quarters of its oil production with the secession of South Sudan in July last year.

Inflation jumped to 30 percent in May, mainly on food prices, as the Sudanese pound continues to reach new lows in the black market for hard currency.

Sudan’s NCP approve partial removal of fuel subsidies

June 17, 2012 (KHARTOUM) - Sudan’s ruling party endorsed a number of drastic economic measures the government intends to enforce including the partial removal of oil subsidies which is seen as highly unpopular.

Nafie Ali Nafie (SUNA)

The government was facing strong resistance from the parliament and some leading members in the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) who, since last January have been very hostile to scraping oil subsidies, saying it will bring protest and unrest throughout the country.

The deficit in the national budget reached some $2.4 billon and the government failed to find other resources to bridge this gap despite the support provided by some Arab countries.

"Removing fuel subsidies and increasing (fuel) prices are measures taken by a bankrupt state," said finance minister Ali Mahmoud this week, to illustrate the difficult situation of the country as the subsidies benefit mainly the lower class who have already been hit by the severe economic crisis.

The National Shura (consultation) Council of the ruling National Congress Party adopted, on Saturday, a series of measures proposed to overcome the current crisis after the loss of financial revenue of oil produced by the South Sudan.

These drastic measures include structural reform of the government in national and regional institutions, increase of national income, decrease of internal spending and reduction in the need for hard currency.

The move allows the government to propose concrete decisions to be discussed at the government cabinet, as some will require the vote of the national parliament.

The lifting of oil subsidies will be partial in a way that will not affect much of the lower class who already suffer from the inflation caused by the devaluation of the national currency.

Commenting on the decisions of the meeting, presidential assistant and NCP deputy chairman Nafie Ali Nafie stressed that the partial lifting of subsidies, which will be between 10% to 40%, means that the state will continue to subsidise commodities.

He also said his party has launched consultations with the allied political parties of the national government to reduce their participation at the national and regional levels.

Speaking about the probable political upheaval across the country as result of the removal of oil subsidies, Nafie said the opposition has been working to bring down the government and they think that these economic measures represent a golden opportunity for them.

"But their expectation will be disappointed," he said stressing his confidence that the austerity measures will strengthen the government.

However, in Khartoum, Sudanese police broke up a protest on Saturday evening against the cut of subsidies by hundreds of female students of Khartoum university. The anti riot force used tear gas and shots in the air to disperse protesters.

The opposition Umma National Party (NUP) also released a statement on Saturday opposed to scrapping oil subsidies and called on Sudanese to protest peacefully against these measures and to organise marches and sit-ins.

Yasir Arman secretary general of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N) voiced his support earlier this week to a call by the opposition National Consensus Forces (NCF) to protest against the drastic economic plan saying it is directed against the poor majority of Sudanese people.

Arman called on the supporters of the SPLM-N and Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) to protest in order to overthrow the regime. He further urged the opposition forces to coordinate with them to topple the NCP’s regime and to establish a new and democratic Sudan.

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