Sudan protesters scuffle with police for third day: witness

KHARTOUM Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:59am EDT

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Scores of protesters scuffled with police in the Sudanese capital for a third day on Tuesday, a witness said, extending demonstrations against government austerity plans to cope with an economic crisis.

Sudan has faced a budget gap, a depreciating currency and high inflation since South Sudan split away a year ago, taking with it three quarters of the country's oil production - previously the main source of exports and state revenues.

While the Arab-African country has avoided the sort of "Arab Spring" unrest that toppled leaders in neighboring Egypt and Libya, small demonstrations have broken out over food prices and other issues in recent months.

On Tuesday, more than 100 demonstrators blocked a street in Khartoum and scuffled with police while chanting "no, no to inflation" and "the people want to overthrow the regime," the witness said.

As on the previous two days of demonstrations, police used batons and tear gas to disperse the crowd, the witness added, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The police were not immediately available to comment. On Monday the police said in a statement there had been "limited" clashes with students during which several people were detained, and accused the demonstrators of trying to spark riots.

Activists said small protests had also broken out at two university campuses on Tuesday, but the claim was not immediately possible to verify independently.

The protests have come partly in response to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's unveiling of tough austerity measures on Monday to plug a budget deficit which the finance minister put at $2.4 billion.

One of the most contentious issues is a plan to gradually end fuel subsidies, a move many Sudanese fear will stoke even higher inflation. It hit 30 percent in May.

Previous student protests in Khartoum and university cities failed to gain broader momentum. Opposition politicians said last week they planned to stage protests against the removal of fuel subsidies.

Sudan had been supposed to keep collecting some revenues from the roughly 350,000 barrels of oil per day of output which the south inherited on secession, under an agreement whereby the landlocked south would pay to use pipelines and other facilities in the north.

But the two have failed to agree on fees, and the dispute climaxed when Juba shut down its entire output in January to stop Khartoum from confiscating some oil.

The economic fallout has piled hardships on people already exhausted by years of conflict, U.S. trade sanctions and economic mismanagement.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; writing by Alexander Dziadosz; editing by Andrew Roche)

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