Protests that began over rising prices in Sudan have grown into the largest uprising yet against the 29-year rule of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
The demonstrations began Dec. 19 in the eastern city of Atbara over the increasing cost of bread and fuel, and then spread to several other cities, including the capital, Khartoum. Amnesty International said last week that at least 37 protesters died over the first five days of clashes with police.
On Monday, protesters demanding al-Bashir’s resignation began a march toward the presidential palace but were repelled by Sudanese police using tear gas, according to activists and videos posted online. Some activists claimed police used live ammunition and that scores of protesters had been detained and at least four suffered gunshot wounds. A similar protest took place Christmas Day, with police responding with tear gas and live fire.
Last week, protesters also torched the offices of the ruling National Congress Party and doctors launched a strike to “paralyze” the government, while several trade and professional unions planned their own strikes.
Sudan’s economic crisis has deepened over the past year. Inflation is at nearly 70 percent and the price of some goods, including fuel and bread, have doubled. Similar economic protests occurred in January, but the government cracked down on opposition leaders to silence the demonstrations. Former Prime Minister Sadeq al-Mahdi said authorities detained at least 16 other opposition leaders.
“I don’t think people on the streets are protesting just because of bread and fuel,” Sara Abdelgalil, president of the Sudan Doctors’ Union in the United Kingdom, told Al-Jazeera. “They are protesting because there is an overall failure of the whole system.”
In October, Sundanese Prime Minister Moataz Moussa announced a 15-month emergency economic reform plan, which included austerity measures to cut down excess government spending. Moussa said the plan aims to “reduce the average inflation, stabilize the exchange rate of the pound, achieve a [gross domestic product] growth of four percent, and to fix the liquidity crises.” But the public has already lost patience with the administration.
Al-Bashir seized power in a 1989 military coup and has ruled the country ever since. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses in Darfur. The ruling party selected him to run for another term in the 2020 election and lawmakers recently introduced a bill to scrap presidential term limits.
Amnesty condemned the government’s use of force, including its move to shut down the internet. “It must address the root cause of the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in the country, instead of trying to prevent people from fully exercising their right to protest against the growing hardships they are facing,” said Seif Magango, the group’s deputy director for East Africa.