Thousands protest as Sudan officials promise cash

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Thousands of Sudanese protesters took to the streets of the capital Khartoum late Sunday, chanting “freedom” and renewing calls for their longtime autocratic president to resign after dozens of protesters were killed in a week of demonstrations sparked by austerity measures.

The government, which has imposed a media blackout, moved to appease the rancor with cash, saying it would distribute cash to half a million families to offset higher fuel and food prices in a country where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line.

The street demonstrations, which began after subsides were lifted last week, have been the most widespread in Sudan since Omar al-Bashir seized power 24 years ago.

Waving pictures of slain protesters, thousands held a Sunday-night memorial for Salah al-Sanhouri, a demonstrator shot Friday during an earlier protest in Burri, an old Khartoum district.

Women called for the “downfall of the regime” and chanted “freedom, peace and justice, revolution is the choice of people.”

Residents cheered on the marchers from rooftops while nearby security forces were stationed in pick-up trucks carrying mounted machine guns near the spot where al-Sanhouri was shot.

“The protests will continue and will reach a general strike. This is our aim,” said Ghazi al-Sanhouri, a nephew of the slain protester. “We will keep uncovering the regime’s brutal tactics in suppressing the protests by killings and atrocities.”

Al-Sanhouri’s father, Moudthir al-Reih, told The Associated Press: “this regime will come to an end … God willing it will be over.”

Public discontent had been growing over failed economic and political policies that led South Sudan to break off and became an independent state in 2011, taking approximately three quarters of Sudan’s oil production with it. Critics also blamed al-Bashir for draining the country’s coffers by battling armed rebel movements in three different fronts inside the country.

The unrest began in the city of Wad Madani south of Khartoum but quickly spread to at least nine districts in Khartoum and seven cities across the country.

The crackdown on thousands of protesters has been violent, leaving at least 50 dead according to international rights groups. Doctors and activists put the death toll higher, telling The Associated Press it stands at more than 100. The government has acknowledged some 33 killed, including policemen.

In a latest blow to freedom of the press, Sudanese authorities also forced the country’s largest daily newspaper, Al-Intibaha, to stop printing, according to the paper’s website. The paper, the country’s largest in terms of circulation, is owned and run by an uncle of al-Bashir, al-Tayab Mustafa. Mustafa could not be immediately reached.

Several dailies came under pressure to depict demonstrators as “saboteurs.” The government also closed the offices of Gulf-based satellite networks Al-Arabiya and Sky News Arabia. Several newspapers were ordered to stop publication while others stopped voluntarily to avoid government pressure.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya Sunday, Sudan’s Foreign Minister defended the move, saying “media make revolutions.”

“If the revolution is created by media, we have to be serious in dealing with it,” he said from New York, where he was attending the United Nations General Assembly.

Diaa Eddin Belal, editor-in-chief of al-Sudani newspaper, told the AP that editions of his paper were confiscated and they were ordered to stop printing three times since Wednesday. Back to work on Sunday, Belal said that in one incident on Friday the papers had been on their way to distribution centers when he received a phone call from police telling him that there would be no papers that day.

“The government feels that it is own existence is endangered and the press is playing a role in influencing public opinion … they want papers to turn into official gazettes that reflect only (the government’s) point of view with no criticism or negative feedback,” he said.

In a move aimed at pacifying a frustrated public, the government said Sunday it would distribute one-off payments to families in need, raise the minimum wage and boost public sector salaries.

The official SUNA news agency reported that Minister of Social Solidarity Mashair al-Dawlab ordered a half million families to be given 150-Sudanese-pound ($21 by local exchange rate) aid packages in early October. It also quoted the deputy finance minister as saying the public sector salary increases would start at the same time.

Meanwhile, Sudan’s main labor union said a hike in minimum wages promised since January would be implemented in the coming two days.

Still worried of lingering protests however, the Education Ministry said on Sunday that schools will remain closed until Oct. 20. Schools were closed since Wednesday after high school students led protests in different districts in the capital chanting against al-Bashir.

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