Cracks in Sudan's ruling elite after clampdown on protests

Pressure on Bashir to scrap austerity measures following unrest that has left dozens dead

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 4:10am

Islamists and members of Sudan's ruling party have called on President Omar al-Bashir to cancel deeply unpopular austerity measures, the first sign of dissent inside ruling circles after a week of unrest that has killed dozens.

Police on Saturday fired tear gas to break up thousands of people in the capital during a sixth day of protests against cuts to subsidies on cooking oil and fuel that doubled pump prices overnight. Some in the crowd chanted "Freedom, Freedom" and "Bashir, you are a killer", said witnesses.

"Mr President, in the light what is happening we demand an immediate stop of the economic measures," read a petition signed by 31 members of the quasi-official Islamist Movement and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). Bashir has ruled Sudan since coming to power in a bloodless 1989 coup that was backed by Islamists and the country's powerful army. It is highly unusual for members of the political elite to question his actions publicly.

"The government has not allowed citizens to demonstrate peacefully," the petition added, urging prosecution for those responsible for opening fire on protesters and compensation for relatives of killed people. The government has not acknowledged using live ammunition.

Police said unknown gunmen opened fire on a group of protesters on Friday, killing four people and bringing the official death toll to 33. There was no immediate reaction to the petition from the government.

Bashir has not commented on the protests since announcing the lifting of subsidies last Sunday - part of austerity measures driven by a severe financial crunch exacerbated by the secession of oil-producing South Sudan in 2011.

The petition was signed by former NCP parliamentary caucus head Ghazi Salah el-Din and a prominent army officer who authorities accused of being involved in a coup attempt against Bashir last year.

In Khartoum's Burri district more than 1,000 people gathered for the funeral of one of the victims, Salah Mudahir Sanhuri, from a prominent merchant family with good relations with the government. The crowd grew to more than 3,000 people, most of whom rushed home when police started firing tear gas.

The protests are much larger than demonstrations against corruption, rising inflation and early fuel subsidy cuts last year. But they are still tiny compared to the masses who turned out to oust rulers in Egypt and Tunisia.

The United Arab Emirates condemned the crackdown, the first Arab country to criticise Khartoum.

Analysts say Sudan has not seen an Arab Spring-style revolt because of a weak and divided opposition.

Amnesty International and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies said at least 50 people had been killed by gunshots to the chest or head by Thursday night.