KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Hundreds of Sudanese joined anti-government demonstrations across Khartoum on Saturday, as protests against spending cuts flared for a second week despite a security crackdown.
Sudan’s police force ordered its officers to put an end to the demonstrations “immediately”, state media said, after the protests spread throughout the capital a day earlier expanding beyond the core of student activists initially involved.
Angered by a raft of austerity measures meant to tackle a $2.4 billion budget deficit, activists have tried to use discontent to trigger an “Arab Spring”-style uprising against the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Security forces have used teargas and batons to break up the demonstrations in several neighborhoods.
On Saturday, teargas hung in the air, broken rocks were strewn across streets and smoke rose from burning tires amid a heavy security presence in the Al-Daim neighborhood, site of some of the larger protests a day earlier.
A Reuters correspondent saw around 300 to 400 demonstrators, but it was difficult to estimate the total number of protesters as they were scattered in small groups on different streets.
Protests followed the same pattern in the Sajjana neighborhood, where clusters of demonstrators moved through side streets, blocked roads, burned tires and chanted “freedom, freedom”, and “the people want to overthrow the regime”.
In the central Khartoum Three area, around 200 demonstrators threw rocks at police, who fired teargas to break them up, a Reuters witness said.
Opposition leaders and youth activists - who say they harbor some of the same complaints as Arab Spring protesters such as about unemployment and corruption - have called for more demonstrations to press for greater democracy and measures to control price rises.
Government officials have played down the protests, and have so far said they will press ahead with spending cuts which they say are needed to heal the ailing economy.
Sudan avoided the wave of unrest that toppled strongmen in neighboring Egypt and Libya last year, but the latest demonstrations were unleashed after the announcement of spending cuts - including the highly unpopular move of scaling back fuel subsidies.
The measures are aimed at dealing with an economic crisis caused largely by the secession of South Sudan a year ago. The new nation took about three-quarters of the country’s oil output, which was previously Sudan’s main source of revenues.
That left Sudan with a widening budget deficit, a weakening currency and rising prices for food and other goods, many of which are imported.
In a sign authorities plan to intensify their crackdown, the state-linked Sudanese Media Centre said in a text message sent to mobile phones police had been ordered to “immediately end the demonstrations and incidents of unrest according to the law”.
The security forces have only rarely commented on the protests, which have gone almost entirely unreported in the local media. On Friday, police said they had contained “limited” demonstrations that did not exceed 150 people.
Opposition politicians and activists reported several arrests on Saturday. They included Saata Ahmed al-Hajj, general secretary of the Sudanese Commission for Defense of Freedoms and Rights, the group’s chief said.
The National Consensus Forces, an umbrella group of Sudan’s main opposition parties, had so far recorded about 15 arrests of opposition members, including some senior figures, the group’s head Farouk Abu Issa said.
Four more small protests broke out in the suburb of Omdurman, and two more in the Burri and Bahri neighborhoods, witnesses said.
Sudan and South Sudan were supposed to work out a deal whereby the landlocked South would pay Sudan fees to export crude via pipelines and other facilities on its territory, but they have so far failed to reach an agreement.
South Sudan shut down its crude output in January after Khartoum started taking some oil. African Union-brokered talks in Addis Ababa have yet to produce a deal.
Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Andrew Osborn