KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese activists blamed authorities on Saturday for the deaths of four student protesters whose bodies were discovered in a canal near a provincial university and called for further demonstrations against the government.
State news agency SUNA reported all activities at Gezira University - located in an agricultural region south of Khartoum - had been suspended after four students “drowned”.
Arab-African Sudan has avoided the mass protests that have swept across much of the Middle East, but rising food prices and other grievances have inspired smaller demonstrations over the last two years.
Students from Darfur - a western region the size of Spain that has been torn by war for nearly a decade - had staged a sit-in at Gezira University demanding an exemption from tuition fees they say a presidential decree required, a spokesman for a Darfur student association said.
He said the sit-in was broken up on Wednesday by supporters of the ruling National Congress Party.
A number of students disappeared and three were found dead on Friday in the canal near the university, said the spokesman who asked not to be named.
“We hold the university administration and the ... students of the National Congress Party responsible for the death of these students,” he said.
The group later said a fourth student had been found dead.
Police in Gezira state confirmed late on Friday two students had been found dead in a canal, and a third was missing, but said there were no signs of violence.
Sudanese youth activist groups including Change Now and Girifna issued statements blaming security forces for the students’ deaths and calling for protests.
About 50 people joined a protest held by Change Now in central Khartoum, waving banners and chanting. Police used batons to disperse the protesters and arrested several of them, witnesses told Reuters.
An activist from Change Now said nine of the group’s members had been arrested.
Security forces also detained 25 students from Khartoum’s Nilein University who were protesting the deaths, Jibril Adam, spokesman for the Darfur rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said.
The arrested students included the daughter of Khalil Ibrahim, JEM’s former leader who was killed last year, he said. JEM, widely considered Darfur’s most militarily powerful rebel group, also issued a statement blaming authorities for the students’ death.
The police were not immediately available to comment.
Small demonstrations erupted across Sudan in June after the government announced cuts to its costly fuel subsidies and other tough austerity measures to contain an economic crisis brought on by last year’s secession of oil-producing South Sudan.
The protests calling for the resignation of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s government petered out after a security crackdown and the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Darfur has been the site of a nearly decade-long insurgency. Rebels took up arms there in 2003 complaining the government had neglected the region.
Bashir and other officials are wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur - accusations they dismiss as politically-motivated inventions of hostile Western forces.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Alexander Dziadosz; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Sophie Hares