Students protest in Sudan's north over price rises
By Opheera McDoom
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese students clashed with police for a second day on Thursday over price rises, witnesses said, rare public protests which have broken out in the north of Africa's largest country as the south votes to seceede.
Students held protests in the universities of Khartoum and Gezira in the north's agricultural heartland on Wednesday against proposed cuts in subsidies in petroleum products and sugar, a strategic commodity in Sudan.
Five people were slightly hurt and an unknown number arrested in the Khartoum protest, a student said.
"The security forces were already there with a very, very heavy presence," said journalism student al-Fadil Ali.
"They fear this could lead to revolution."
On Thursday the protests spread to the towns of Wad Medani and Hassa Heissa in Gezira state, where students clashed with police who also used tear gas to subdue crowds.
The planned cuts come at a politically sensitive time for the government of President Omar Hassan al Bashir, who stands to lose control over the oil-producing south in the referendum, agreed as part of a 2005 deal to end a north-south civil war.
Prices of other goods have already risen due to a surge in global food prices and a devaluation in the local currency.
In Hassa Heissa, one eyewitness who declined to be named for fear of arrest, told Reuters about 500 students broke out of the university on Thursday afternoon to be fiercely beaten back by dozens of police wielding batons and firing tear gas.
In Wad Medani, student Mohamed Hassan told Reuters police forced dozens of students back into the university, also with tear gas and canes, before guarding the doors.
"There are about 14 cars of police surrounding the university and they have vehicles with machine guns mounted on them ... pointed at us," Hassan said from inside the campus.
Sheza Osman Omer from the opposition Democratic Unionist Party in Gezira said several students were injured in clashes with police on Wednesday who had warned them not to leave the university grounds. The police spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
CLASHES, PRICE CONTROLS ACROSS NORTH AFRICA
Algeria and Tunisia have seen serious clashes between police and demonstrators protesting against economic hardship, watched closely by other states in north Africa and across the Arab world with the potential for social unrest.
After several people were killed and hundreds injured in Algeria, the government promised lower prices.
Libya's government axed duties on food imports, a newspaper said, and Morocco introduced a compensation system for importers of million soft wheat aimed at keeping prices stable. Jordan has also taken steps to keep food and fuel prices in check.
The government in Khartoum is under extra pressure because of the referendum, viewed by many in the north as a tragedy.
Sudan deployed some 17,500 police to secure voting in the north even though few southerners are voting there. Opposition politician Yasir Arman said they were there to stop unrest.
"The north is feeling that the government has betrayed all the dreams of having a new society, of a different route that could have kept the unity of Sudan," he said.
The police prevented public expressions of sadness after several demonstrations of mourning for the country and have also prevented opposition officials from doing live tv interviews.
In a separate development, a previously unknown group in the central state of Sennar sent a statement to a local newspaper saying it had burned 5,000 feddans (2,100 hectares) of sugar cane in protest at the central government's "corrupt" policies.
The Revolutionary Front for the People of the Central Provinces, said they represented young farmers in the statement seen by Reuters, but there was no way to confirm their identity.
The state-owned Sudanese Sugar Company said there had been a fire in their fields in Sennar, but said just 200 feddans had been lost and the crop had already been harvested.
Khartoum will look to consolidate its power once the south secedes. It has withdrawn from peace talks to resolve the eight-year insurgency in its western Darfur region and fighting has escalated with rebels.
Those clashes have spread to neighbouring Kordofan and Khartoum is anxious to quash any dissent until the sensitive referendum and the complex secession of the south is over.
Rebels from all of Sudan's regions share similar complaints that successive Khartoum governments, controlled since independence by central Nilotic tribes, have failed to develop the regions and spread education and wealth.