Sudan Resolved to Lift Fuel Subsidies Amid Riots, Minister Says

Sudan’s government will press ahead with the removal of fuel subsidies, Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said, even as the austerity measures spark deadly street protests and opposition from some ruling party members.

The Sept. 23 announcement of planned increases in the costs of gasoline and public transportation triggered unrest across the East African country. Marchers in the capital of Khartoum chanted slogans against President Umar al-Bashir yesterday, suggesting that the protests are evolving into a broader outburst against his leadership.

“There’s no way the government will consider canceling recent economic measures,” Osman said in in a telephone interview today from Khartoum. “This is the only remedy for the economy.”

Bashir’s cabinet blames fuel subsidies for accelerating inflation and damaging the economy. Their removal will increase the cost of gasoline to 14 pounds ($3.17) a gallon from 8 pounds, while pushing public transport tariffs 26 percent higher. Sudan’s per capita income was $1,450 in 2012, data on the World Bank’s website show.

“The significance of protests is that they were not driven by activists or politicians,” Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Nairobi-based Rift Valley Institute, said today by phone from Freiburg, Germany. The movement “was spontaneous, real and took everyone by surprise. It began in the country’s poorest neighborhoods and included different age groups.”

Signed Petition

Thirty-one members and supporters of Bashir’s National Congress Party signed a petition yesterday urging the president to reverse the austerity measures, the Sudan Tribune reported, citing a copy of the document. Demonstrators weren’t allowed to “peacefully express their views in line with the constitution,” the petition said, according to the newspaper.

Ahmed al-Sheikh, head of Sudan’s Doctors Syndicate, said yesterday that at least 210 people have been killed since the protests began. The Interior Ministry put the death toll at 33.

Bashir has ruled Sudan since coming to power in a 1989 coup. The 69-year-old leader is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of responsibility for genocide and war crimes in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

Sudan’s economy shrank 4.4 percent in 2012 after newly independent South Sudan took three-quarters of the formerly united country’s oil output of 490,000 barrels a day. The economy also endured a loss of revenue after South Sudan halted crude production in January 2012 in a dispute over export fees that brought the two countries to the brink of war.

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