KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese police used tear gas and batons on Wednesday to stop protests in Darfur’s biggest city Nyala against the government and its austerity program, a day after eight protesters were killed in the worst violence since June, witnesses said.
Sudan has avoided “Arab spring” uprisings like those in Egypt and Syria, but tough austerity measures, including cuts in fuel subsidies, have provoked small protests against the 23-year rule of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Some 400 people gathered in the main market and two other areas of the western city of Nyala to protest against the government and rising inflation, but were dispersed by the baton-wielding police, a journalist and witness said.
“Today there is a heavy security presence all over the town,” one resident said, adding that authorities had shut down all schools.
More than 1,000 demonstrators clashed with police in Nyala on Tuesday, according to witnesses. Activists published a list of 12 people they said had been killed in Tuesday’s clashes, countering the official death toll of eight.
Dissent has been rising against a government that has been grappling with a severe economic crisis since the country lost much of its oil output when South Sudan seceded last year. The sharp fall in revenues has left Sudan with a large budget deficit and rising prices for food and other goods, many of which are imported.
Protests have dwindled in the past few weeks in the capital Khartoum, around 900 kms (570 miles) from Nyala, after a security crackdown and the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan when most people stay indoors until sunset.
The local government has accused Darfur rebel groups of stirring up Tuesday’s protests. Darfur is the scene of a near-decade old insurgency by non-Arab tribes against the Khartoum government, which they accuse of neglect.
The level of violence in Darfur has subsided, but law and order have collapsed in many parts of the vast territory, and clashes between rebels and government forces persist.
On Wednesday, unknown gunmen killed local official Abdelrahman Mohamed Eissa and his driver in a car in Kutum in North Darfur state, the state news agency SUNA said.
Events in Darfur are difficult to verify as the government severely restricts travel by foreign journalists and diplomats.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Ulf Laessing, editing by Tim Pearce