Sudanese back on streets to march against dire living conditions

Security forces fire tear gas at Khartoum demonstrators angry at worsening economic situation.

The protesters are calling for the formation of a legislative body which is supposed to happen as part of a power-sharing agreement they reached with the military in 2019 [File: Mohamed Nureldin/Reuters]

Sudanese security forces have fired tear gas at demonstrators in the capital protesting against the dire state of the economy and poor living conditions.

The protesters on Wednesday took to the streets of Khartoum and its twin city, Omdurman, as well as in other cities across the country. Demonstrators set tyres ablaze in some areas in the capital.

The state-run SUNA news agency said central Khartoum was in complete lockdown after security forces blocked main roads, bridges and streets leading to the presidential palace and the military’s headquarters ahead of the demonstrations.

Sudan is currently ruled by a joint civilian-military government, following the popular uprising that toppled longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir last year.

The march was called by the so-called Resistance Committees, which were instrumental in the protests against al-Bashir and the generals who removed him from office and briefly held power. Other political parties and professional unions took part in the demonstrations.

“Transitional authorities have completed more than a year [in power], and the crises are frighteningly increasing by the day,” the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a trade union alliance that spearheaded the protests against al-Bashir, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Living hardship is no longer bearable, and people spend their days gasping after basic needs of bread and fuel,” it added, describing the government’s performance as “turbulent and weak.”

The protesters are calling for the formation of a legislative body, which is supposed to happen as part of a power-sharing agreement they reached with the military last year.

They also demand results from an independent investigation into the crackdown against protests last year, including the deadly breakup of the main Khartoum protest camp in June 2019. The probe was supposed to have been completed by February, but investigators asked for an extension, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said protesters were frustrated with the deteriorating living conditions and wanted to put pressure on the transitional government to address the issues affecting them.

“Many people can’t afford basic commodities anymore,” she said. “People have been standing in line for fuel and bread for weeks and weeks now, this is something that is becoming a regular scene here.”

Morgan added: “Then there is the issue of how much control the military has. The protesters are saying they took to the streets before to oust a military government and have a civilian cabinet, but they say the military still control most of the institutions – especially the economic intuitions – which is making it very hard to improve living conditions.”

Economic woes

The transitional government has been struggling to revive Sudan’s struggling economy amid a huge budget deficit and widespread shortages of essential goods including fuel, bread and medicine.

Annual inflation soared past 200 percent last month as prices of bread and other staples surged, according to official figures.

Sudan’s economy has suffered from decades of United States sanctions and mismanagement under al-Bashir, who had ruled the country since a 1989 military coup.

The country has more than $60bn in foreign debt, and debt relief and access to foreign loans are widely seen as its gateway to economic recovery. But access to foreign loans is linked to the removal of sanctions related to the country’s decades-old listing by the US as a state sponsor of terror.

US President Donald Trump recently said Sudan will be removed from the blacklist if it follows through on its pledge to pay $335m to American terror victims and their families. Sudanese officials welcomed Trump’s announcement.

Wednesday’s protests came on the anniversary of a 1964 uprising that ended six years of military rule.

The demonstrations came a week after at least 15 people were killed and dozens were wounded in tribal clashes and a government crackdown against protesters in eastern Sudan.

The violence broke out after Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok earlier this month sacked Saleh Ammar, governor of the eastern Kassala province.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies