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Gunfire erupts during Darfur 'Ponzi' protest
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May 2, 2010 - 8:14:14 AM

Gunfire erupts during Darfur 'Ponzi' protest

KHARTOUM Gunfire broke out and ambulance sirens wailed as hundreds of angry victims of a failed pyramid scheme protested in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region on Sunday, as a witness said police had opened fire.

"We have heard sporadic gunfire but it is not fighting," Kemal Saiki, an official of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), told AFP of the protest in El-Fasher, capital of North Darfur state.

"We have instructed our personnel to stay at their workplace," said the official of the force, which is based in El-Fasher.

Dirar Abdallah Dirar, one of the demonstrators, contacted by telephone, said police had opened fire as the protesters tried to march on the house of the state governor, Mohammed Yussif Kibir.

"There have been casualties," he said.

Aid workers said the ambulances could be heard out on the streets but they were also staying indoors and unable to give a toll, while local authorities and hospitals were not immediately reachable.

Tension has been running high for weeks in El-Fasher where thousands of small investors have lost millions of dollars in a "Ponzi scheme," a fraud involving the payment to investors of funds contributed by new investors.

According to local residents, the governor had promised during Sudan's elections last month to compensate the victims but failed to keep his word. His office was unavailable for comment on Sunday.

"This situation has been brewing for weeks. I knew it would blow up one day or another," said another humanitarian aid worker in El-Fasher, which has around half a million inhabitants.

Many investors had sold land or ploughed in their savings to take part in the get-rich-quick scheme.

The marketplace in the centre of El-Fasher has been renamed "Al-Mawasir Souk (market)," after the local colloquial Arabic for a swindle. Al-Mawasir has also become the name used across Sudan for the scam.

In an encounter with religious and local leaders, Kibir gave assurances on Friday the authorities were not implicated and that investors would have their funds or property returned, the state news agency SUNA reported.

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