KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese security forces clashed with anti-government protesters across Khartoum on Friday in the most widespread demonstrations to have broken out in the capital since officials unveiled tough spending cuts earlier this week.
The demonstrations, now in their sixth day, expanded beyond the core of student activists and spread into several neighborhoods that had been quiet as hundreds of Sudanese took to the streets after Friday prayers.
The smell of tear gas hung in the air and broken rocks covered streets as riot police and demonstrators faced off throughout the city, witnesses said. Demonstrators burned tires and security forces used batons to disperse them.
In the first significant demonstration of the day, about 400 to 500 protesters began chanting “the people want to overthrow the regime” as they left the Imam Abdel Rahman mosque in the suburb of Omdurman, activists and two witnesses said.
As security forces gathered, the protesters called for the police to join them, chanting: “Oh police, oh police, how much is your salary and how much is a pound of sugar?”
The police fired tear gas and then used batons as they clashed with the protesters, who threw rocks back at them. Witnesses said men in civilian clothes also attacked the demonstrators.
Police were not immediately available for comment.
Large demonstrations have been relatively rare in Sudan, which avoided the “Arab Spring” protest movements which swept through neighboring Egypt and Libya. Security forces usually quickly disperse protests.
But government measures to cut spending to plug a budget gap - including the highly unpopular move of scaling back fuel subsidies - sparked a spate of demonstrations this week.
The country has faced soaring inflation since South Sudan seceded a year ago - taking with it about three quarters of the country’s oil production - and activists have been trying to use public frustration to build a movement to topple the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Unlike previous days, when the demonstrations were led largely by students, the protesters on Friday appeared to encompass a broader segment of the capital’s population.
At one protest in Omdurman, about 100 people chanted “Freedom, freedom” until police fired tear gas to disperse them.
Police also fired tear gas to break up separate protests in the central neighborhoods of Burri, Khartoum Three and Al-Daim, which had previously been quiet, witnesses said.
Protesters burned tires on the streets and blocked traffic and threw rocks at security forces, they said.
Two small protests also broke out in the northern suburb of Bahri, which police dispersed with batons, activists said. A witness confirmed the account.
About 40 people joined one protest in the area, but stopped amid a heavy security presence, while around 100 people burned tires at the other protest until police broke them up.
Sudanese officials say they have little choice but to scale back fuel subsidies and take other sensitive measures to plug a budget deficit the finance minister has put at about $2.4 billion.
The country had been supposed to continue collecting some revenues from South Sudan’s oil because the landlocked new nation has to export its crude through the north.
But the two failed to set a price, and South Sudan shut down its production in January after Khartoum started confiscating some oil. African Union-brokered talks in Addis Ababa have so far failed to yield a settlement.
Both economies were already reeling from decades of conflict, U.S. trade sanction and mismanagement.
Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Myra MacDonald and Jon Hemming