Khartoum streets deserted as three day strike begins

Khartoum streets deserted as three day strike begins
The Sudanese capital's squares and roads were empty on Sunday as a three-day strike over fuel subsidy cuts began amid mixed responses.
3 min read
27 Nov, 2016
Authorities want to avoid repeting a 2013 deadly crackdown that drew international condemnation [Getty]

Several key squares and roads in Khartoum were deserted on Sunday morning, the start of the working week in the Muslim country, in a mixed response to opposition calls for a nationwide strike against fuel subsidy cuts.

The call for a three-day strike came after the authorities announced a 30 percent hike in petrol and diesel prices that has led to a sharp rise in the cost of other goods, including medicines.

The Sudanese capital's squares were free of the normal traffic jams as several public transport buses remained off the streets, while many shops, cafes and restaurants in downtown Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman remained shut.

"There are not many people on the roads, which has impacted my business since I opened in the morning," said Ahmad Saleh, an owner of a grocery shop in downtown Omdurman.

Restaurant owners said they had told their workers to prepare less food, anticipating a drop in business.

Workers at an engineering firm told The New Arab that they shut down on Sunday in solidarity with the strike, hoping to force the government to cut their spending and stop blaming citizens for the ailing economy.

Schools were open but many parents preferred to keep their children at home fearing clashes between protesters and security forces.

"My son's school urged parents to send only grown up boys. My five-year-old son is at home," Mohamed Khalid, a resident of south Khartoum, told AFP.

However, state employees turned up for work, transported by government buses to their offices.

But a schoolteacher in Khartoum said that despite going to work, the teachers remained on strike and did not attend their scheduled classes.

"Even the school bell did not ring today because the person responsible was on strike too," she told The New Arab.

The authorities are determined to avoid any repetition of 2013 unrest that was sparked by a similar round of fuel subsidy cuts.

It was suppressed only by a deadly crackdown by security forces that drew international condemnation.

Rights groups say that crackdown left about 200 people dead, while the government put the death toll at less than 100.

Price hikes

President Omar al-Bashir's regime has been forced to progressively reduce fuel subsidies since 2011 when South Sudan seceded and took with it nearly three-quarters of the formerly united country's oil reserves.

The latest fuel price hike coupled with a sharp fall in the Sudanese pound has triggered sporadic protests.

Groups of protesters have staged rallies in Khartoum, which have been swiftly dispersed by anti-riot police.

"Before the price rise we needed 30 pounds ($4.60) to buy our daily vegetables," said Fatima Ibrahim, a resident of Khartoum.

"Now we need 100 to 150 pounds to buy the same amount of items. What will people do?"

Prices of medicines have shot up on the back of a sliding pound on the black market. 

The Sudanese pound has dropped by more than 60 percent to the dollar in the past six months. 

"The fall in the currency has definitely affected the prices of medicines, especially those imported by private companies," Health Minister Bahar Idris Abu Garda told AFP.

The authorities are working to ensure that medicines are available at reasonable prices, he said, as the country on Sunday received the first batch of medicines from the UN Development Programme under a $60-million deal.

Agencies contributed to this report.