Sudan vows no turning back on fuel subsidy
KHARTOUM, Sudan (AFP) - There will be no turning back on Sudan's policy of phasing out fuel subsidies, the finance minister said on Monday, despite public outrage over high prices in the bankrupt nation.
Anti-regime demonstrations have spread since June 18 when President Omar al-Bashir announced austerity measures including tax hikes and an end to cheap fuel.
Protesters in the eastern town of Gedaref on Monday partly damaged the local office of the ruling National Congress Party, witnesses there said.
"We will not retreat from our policy to remove the subsidy, whatever happens," Finance Minister Ali Mahmud al-Rasul told a news conference.
"If the price of oil goes higher in the international market, we will increase it in Sudan."
The cost of petrol at the pump has roughly doubled since last week under the new policy, adding to an inflation rate which has risen every month and hit 30.4 percent in May.
Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan gained independence last July, taking with it about 75 percent of Sudanese crude production.
The north has been left struggling for revenue, plagued by inflation, and with a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.
The landlocked South depended on the north's pipeline and port to export its crude, but Khartoum and Juba could not agree on how much South Sudan should pay to use the infrastructure.
Rasul said in May that the lost pipeline fees amounted to 6.5 billion Sudanese pounds ($1.48 billion).
Sudan's already depleted oil revenues shrank by a further 20 percent after its main Heglig oil field was damaged and shut down in fighting with invading South Sudanese troops in April, an international economist has estimated.
Even before the easing of fuel subsidies, the cost of basic consumer goods had doubled over the past year.
Demonstrations against high prices and Bashir's 23-year regime continued for a 10th day on Monday, witnesses said.
In Gedaref, part of the eastern region where poverty is endemic, about 200 people protesting at the local market were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas and wielding batons, they said.
Protesters later regrouped and set a fire inside the ruling party's office near the market, they added.
"I saw some documents and furniture and a part of the building... burned," one resident told AFP.
Demonstrators also stoned the car of the local government head, witnesses said, adding the official was not hurt.
About 100 people emerged from the headquarters of a main opposition party, Popular Congress, in Khartoum on Monday night, burnt tyres and shouted for the overthrow of the regime in what has become a familiar ritual for Sudan's demonstrators.
Police responded with tear gas, which is also routine.
The protests over rising prices started with students outside the University of Khartoum on June 16.
But they later broadened to include a cross-section of the population in numerous locations throughout the capital, as well as in several other parts of the country.
Bashir, an army officer who seized power on June 30, 1989, called the protests small-scale and not comparable to the "Arab Spring" uprisings against regional strongmen over the past year.
But a demonstrator told AFP the current unrest is unprecedented.
"Right now, this is first time since 1989 we have these protests in most cities," he said, asking not to be identified by name.