Strike over fuel sub­si­dies qui­eten Khar­toum streets

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Sev­eral pub­lic trans­port buses stayed off the streets in Khar­toum and many shops shut yes­ter­day 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. Sev­eral key squares and roads in Khar­toum and its twin city of Om­dur­man were de­serted yes­ter­day morn­ing, the start of the work­ing week in the Mus­lim coun­try, as many pub­lic trans­port buses re­mained off the streets, AFP cor­re­spon­dents re­ported. Schools in Khar­toum 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. The cap­i­tal’s squares were free of the nor­mal traf­fic jams, while many shops, cafes and restau­rants in down­town Khar­toum and 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. “There is at least a 40-per­cent drop in busi­ness. My usual cus­tomers are other shop­keep­ers and many of them have closed their shops to­day,” said Ibrahim Mo­hamed, who runs a restau­rant in north Khar­toum. “Some of my work­ers have also not re­ported to work to­day.” How­ever, state em­ploy­ees turned up for work, trans­ported by govern­ment buses to their of­fices. 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.

Protests over high prices

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. — AFP

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