At least 30 people have reportedly been killed in Sudan during days of rioting over sudden fuel price hikes.
Sudanese authorities deployed troops after at least 20 petrol stations were torched in violent protests that have raged since Monday, sparked when President Omar al-Bashir’s government announced its decision to lift fuel subsidies, immediately doubling the price of petrol.
Thousands of demonstrators turned out on the streets of the capital Khartoum. Some stores were reported to have been looted and cars set on fire. Police fired tear gas at protesters.
Hospital officials and activists told Reuters news agency that at least 30 people had been killed in the street violence, mostly in Khartoum.
Some reports said the bodies received at the hospital had suffered gunshot wounds. On Wednesday, sources at Khartoum Bahari hospital told the BBC that the medical centre had received three bodies “shot by live bullets earlier today”.
The same day, a police statement said two people had died in the town of Wad Medani, south of Khartoum, and another in the capital’s Omdurman district. Authorities did not release details about the others, who were said to have been killed. Medical sources told Reuters at least 27 bodies had been received at Omdurman hospital.
The internet was also shut down. Some activists described the outage as a government-orchestrated attempt to control the dissemination of information, and called on the government to restore the connection. The claims could not be verified.
In a two-hour televised address on Sunday, President Bashir announced that fuel subsidies would be cut – the latest in a series of such measures as Sudan struggles to bring its budget under control.
When South Sudan broke away to become an independent state in 2011, Sudan lost most of its main oil-producing territory. Many complain of rising food prices, corruption and few work opportunities. According to the United Nations Development Programme for Sudan, unemployment stood at 17 per cent in 2012, and youth unemployment (15 to 24-year-olds) at 25.4 per cent.
Though the Bashir government avoided the Arab Spring-style uprisings seen across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, protests similar to what was witnessed this week have been met with a heavy crackdown on protesters, activists and journalists.
Jehanne Henry, a senior researcher on Sudan for Human Rights Watch, said Sudanese forces have in the past used live bullets when attempting to contain protests, and criticised what she said was a “knee-jerk” reaction to the demonstrations this week.
“The response shows that this unrest is something that terrifies the government,” said Ms Henry. “Authorities present the response as an effort to maintain calm. But tactics such as repressing opposition, controlling information and responding to street protests with force are a symptom of a harsh crackdown on something the government finds very challenging.”
Students had been at the forefront of previous rounds of anti-government protests, some of which lasted for months last year.
Ms Henry said the demonstrations this week did not appear to be organised, and seemed to be a more spontaneous reaction to Sunday’s announcement.
Sudan’s Foreign Ministry denied that President Bashir had decided not to attend the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, insisting that his visa application for the US was still pending, according to a report by the state news agency SUNA.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on allegations that he is linked to the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region. Since 2003, an estimated 300,000 people have died in fighting between rebels and government-backed tribes.