Sudan fuel price hikes aim to avert ‘economic collapse’

Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir defends cut to petrol subsidies, which has caused deadly riots killing dozens.

A Sudanese woman stands beside a banner that reads: "The people want to bring down Al Bashir" during a protest against the government's reaction to fuel price demonstrations outside the Sudanese embassy in Cairo. Hassan Ammar / AP
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KHARTOUM // Fuel price hikes that sparked deadly protests in Sudan were aimed at preventing economic meltdown, President Omar Al Bashir said yesterday, in his first comments on the unrest that has left simmering discontent.

“The latest economic measures aim at preventing the collapse of the economy following the increase in inflation and instability in the exchange rate,” the official Suna news agency quoted him as saying.

Mr Bashir also spoke of “conspiracies being planted by the saboteurs against our country”.

On September 23 the government cut petrol subsidies, driving up pump prices by more than 60 per cent.

The move was part of a series of measures designed to stabilise an economy plagued by inflation and a weakening currency since South Sudan separated in 2011, taking with it most of Sudan’s oil production.

The lost oil accounted for the majority of Khartoum’s export earnings, costing the country billions of dollars.

But the reduction of subsidies on petroleum will save billions, the government says.

Mr Bashir said the economy has suffered “negative impact” from the separation of the South and the disappearance of oil revenue.

But the public struggled to understand why their “brothers and daughters” had been shot dead during protests.

“Peaceful demonstration is a civic right,” Mr Bashir said, while Suna added that he “asked God to have mercy upon the martyrs”.

Yusif Mohammed, 50, a teacher whose brother was killed in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, said “we are very angry about what happened because those protesters, their only weapons were stones and their shouts.

“Why were they gunned down?”

Osama Mohammed, 47, who works in a private company, said: “After the deaths of those youths we will not keep silent”.

People were tired of talk of reform by a regime that has been in power for 24 years, said Osama Mohammed, who lives in Omdurman, which is home to most of the capital region’s poor.

Inflation rose to more than 40 per cent earlier this year but fell to 22.9 per cent by August, according to official data.

Such figures do not appear to correlate with local market prices, which have continued to rise.

Last week’s unrest sent the Sudanese pound lower, to around eight pounds to the dollar.

On the widely used black market, the pound has now lost about 50 per cent of its value over the past two years.

Authorities say 34 people have died since petrol and diesel prices jumped, sending thousands into the streets in the worst urban unrest during Mr Bashir’s rule.

He took power in a 1989 Islamist-backed coup.

However, the real death toll was difficult to determine but “could be as much as 200,” a foreign diplomat said.

“Our neighbour was killed in a demonstration. After what happened, we have lost confidence in this government,” said Sosan Bashir, 35, a civil servant who lives in North Khartoum.

“Why did they kill our brothers and daughters?”

Senior members of the Sudanese Congress Party, a small opposition party with a base in universities, confirmed their president Ibrahim Elsheikh had been arrested on Tuesday.

Congress belongs to an opposition alliance seeking a peaceful end to Bashir’s regime. The alliance said three officials of the Baath and Communist parties had also been rounded up.

Protesters have echoed calls for the downfall of the regime made during the 2011 Arab Spring revolts, which toppled longtime rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Mr Bashir saluted “the role being played by the people to foil the conspiracies being planted by the saboteurs against our country,” Suna said.

The government says it has arrested hundreds of “criminals” and had to intervene last week when crowds turned violent, attacking petrol stations and police facilities.

* Agence France-Presse