Price protest leaves six dead in Sudan's Darfur

KHARTOUM Tue Jul 31, 2012 4:17pm EDT

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Six people were killed during a protest against rising prices in Sudan's western Darfur region on Tuesday, the worst violence since tough austerity measures were imposed last month, an official said.

Activists accused the police of firing live ammunition at the biggest anti-government protest since President Omar Hassan al-Bashir announced a cut in fuel subsidies and other austerity measures.

Sudan has been mired in an economic crisis since South Sudan seceded a year ago, taking with it most of the crude oil production that is the lifeblood of both economies.

More than 1,000 people, mostly students, hurled rocks at police and blocked roads in the market area of Nyala, Darfur's biggest town, to protest against fuel price increases, witnesses said. Several buildings were damaged.

"Police contained the protest of students against price increases...Six people were killed," said Buthina Mohamed Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the government of South Darfur, which includes Nyala.

She declined to comment on whether police had used live ammunition, saying only that authorities had launched an investigation to find out how the six people were killed.

"The situation in the city is now quiet and under control," she said. Police were not available for comment.

Protesters burned tires in several streets and chanted "No to high prices" and "People want to change the regime", the witnesses said.

One witness said he saw around 15 injured people being treated in hospital, some of them bleeding.

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 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 insurgency 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 have persisted.

(Writing by Alexander Dziadosz and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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