Eight people have been killed and more than 20 injured during a protest against rising prices in Sudan’s western Darfur region, according to police.
In what was the biggest anti-austerity protest since President Omar Hassan al-Bashir announced a cut in fuel subsidies and other austerity measures, more than 1,000 protesters, mostly students, threw stones at police and blocked roads in the market area of Nyala, Darfur’s biggest town, on Tuesday, witnesses said.
“Eight citizens were killed and 24 injured, including three police who are in a serious condition,” the state news agency SUNA quoted police as saying.
The statement did not give the cause of death but said officers used a “low level of force” to control the situation after demonstrators burned a petrol station and police facilities in the city of Nyala.
Activists accused the police of using live ammunition to control protest.
“Police were forced to act and exercised the minimum of force needed to control the situation, defend themselves and… protect properties which led to the death of eight citizens,” police said in a statement on state news agency SUNA.
“A number of people were wounded, among them 24 officers, three of them seriously.”
The statement, which did not confirm that police used live ammunition, said several people had been detained.
A witness earlier told AFP news agency that police had fired tear gas at the demonstrators scattered in groups around the main market. He said protesters threw stones at government buildings and burned tyres in the street.
“The demonstration started because the students rejected the price of transport announced by the government,” Bothina Mohmed Ahmed, spokeswoman of the South Darfur government, earlier told AFP.
She said that “other groups”, whom she did not identify, attacked government property during the protest.
Sudan has avoided an “Arab spring” like Egypt or Tunisia but discontent is growing with Bashir’s 23-year rule.
Until Tuesday, protests against the austerity measures had mostly petered out after a security crackdown and the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan almost two weeks ago, when most people stay indoors until sunset.
Some 2,000 people have been detained since mid-June, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, two rights groups, said in a report this month, citing Sudanese activists.
Sudan’s loss of oil revenue has left it with a large budget deficit and rising prices for food and other goods, many of which are imported.
The conflict in Darfur began in 2003, when Darfuris complaining of neglect by the central government took up arms.
The level of violence has subsided, but law and order have collapsed in many parts of the vast territory, and clashes between rebels and government forces persist.
Hamad Ismail, South Darfur governor, accused unnamed Darfur rebel groups of having supported and stirred up the protesters, SUNA said.