Sudanese police on Sunday tear-gassed students who demonstrated in the capital Khartoum while security forces detained a prominent opposition figure ahead of his participation in a famous debate show.
Eye witnesses said that anti-riot police forces fired teargas to break up hundreds of students who marched out of Khartoum University chanting slogans calling for the downfall of the military rule and ouster of President Omer Al-Bashir. The protesters were beaten back after they hurled stones at the police.
Sunday’s protest is the latest in a series of small anti-regime demonstrations which have been gripping the capital and other regions towns since the government moved three weeks ago to implement an austerity plan that ended what officials describe as subsidization of fuel products in order to make up for a budget deficit of 2.4 billion US dollars.
The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) says the deficit is a result of losing 75 percent of the country’s oil production due to South Sudan’s secession, but opposition groups point to rampant corruption, bloated government bureaucracy and overspending on defense and security.
Meanwhile, a senior government official has refused to equate the protests to the Arab Spring uprisings which ousted authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, and declared that the NCP is willing to declare snap elections if the people rejected the austerity program.
In an interview published by a Qatar-based, weekly newspaper on Saturday, the state minister at the presidency of the republic, Amin Hassan Omer rejected the description of the protests as an Arab Spring.
Omer said that the government did expect some protests from citizens upset by austerity plans but he accused opposition groups of trying to “hijack” these protests and “harness them to serve foreign agendas”
He went on to vilify opposition parties describing them as “parasites and opportunistic” entities seeking their narrow self-interest.
The minister said that the government does not mind the occurrence of peaceful protests whose participants express their opinions on government actions but will prevent “sabotage actions” and attempts to block roads.
Omer further announced that the NCP is ready to go to early elections if people rejected the austerity policy. “If the people decided they don’t want this policy, we will go to elections.”
The NCP the military backed dictatorship claimed that it won a landslide victory in the general elections of April 2010 which were marred by reports of fraud and opposition boycotts. Despite its alleged win, the NCP sought to include the biggest two opposition groups, the National Umma Party (NUP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in the government it formed in December 2011 with the participation of the DUP only.
Omer said that the NCP is not “a despotic regime” and warned that if the government falls Sudan will descend into chaos.
In a related context, the wife of the political secretary of the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP), Kamal Omer, told reporters that he was arrested from his house by agents of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on Saturday’s evening.
NISS agents already tried to arrest Omer from his house two weeks ago but detained his son instead when they did not find him.
The arrest of Omer comes few days after opposition forces signed an agreement on overthrowing the regime. It also comes ahead of his planned participation in the famous debate show Al-Itijah Al-Mo’akis against NCP representative Rabi Abdel Atti.
Local activist groups say Sudanese authorities arrested more than 8,000 people since the protests started on 16 June. They reported that some of those detained have been tortured.