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Thursday September 26, 2013 MYT 10:30:02 PM
Thursday September 26, 2013 MYT 10:30:02 PM
by khalid abdelaziz AND ulf laessing
A man walks past a burning petrol station during a protest against a cut in fuel subsidies in the Omdurman district of Khartoum in this still image taken from video said to be taken September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Kidintakar Radio Station/Storyful/via Reuters TV
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - At least 27 people have been killed in protests in Khartoum over fuel subsidy cuts, a medical source said on Thursday as the worst unrest seen in Sudan's relatively well-off central regions for years spread to its biggest port.
Police fired tear gas volleys to quell a small but strident protest in Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast where participants chanted, "Down, down with the regime", according to witnesses.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 coup, has been spared the sort of Arab Spring uprising that unseated autocratic rulers in states from Tunisia to Yemen since 2011, but anger has risen over rising inflation and corruption.
A United Nations official told Reuters that Bashir, who also faces an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court, would not be going to New York for the ongoing meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.
Sudan's foreign ministry denied that Bashir had decided not to attend at a time of instability at home, saying his request for a visa was still pending at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum.
Relatives and medics said at least six people were killed in Wednesday's street protests. But a medical source at a hospital in Khartoum's Omdurman neighbourhood, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters: "There were 27 people killed in the protests and their bodies are at the Omdurman hospital."
Thousands had marched in Khartoum on Wednesday, torching cars, buildings and petrol stations. There was no sign of new unrest in the capital on Thursday but tension reigned amid tight security. Security forces patrolled in pickup trucks mounted with machine guns. Many shops and petrol stations were closed.
The Arab-African country has suffered armed insurgencies in poor peripheral regions such as Darfur for decades, but the more prosperous central areas along the Nile including Khartoum have generally been relatively immune to unrest.
Similar protests broke out in June last year after some fuel subsidies were cut, but they fizzled after a security crackdown.
This round of unrest started on Monday after the government announced another set of fuel subsidy cutbacks, causing pump prices to almost double overnight.
The cuts have been driven by a severe financial crunch since the secession of oil-producing South Sudan in 2011, which deprived Khartoum of three-quarters of the crude output it relied on for state revenues and foreign currency used to import food. Bashir, announcing the cuts on Sunday, said the existing subsidy system posed a danger to the entire Sudanese economy.
"SABOTAGE" AND CRIMINALS
Only about five newspapers reached kiosks on Thursday, carrying mainly statements from First Vice President Ali Osman Taha denouncing the destruction of public and private property during the protests.
Editors at three newspapers said they had either been prevented from publishing by security agents or had decided not to publish to protest at state attempts to steer coverage.
Journalists said security agents had ordered editors at a meeting on Wednesday to publish only the official version describing the protests as "sabotage" and criminals. Still, independent daily al-Ahram published pictures of burned cars and buildings.
There was business as usual on state television showing football matches, musical performances or movies, and a police statement denouncing the violence was read out.
The state-linked Sudanese Media Centre said schools in Khartoum state would be shut until September 30. Students have been at the forefront of previous rounds of anti-government protests.
Sudan's Internet service was back up on Thursday a day after being cut when activists started circulating pictures from protests via social media.
A private sector telecoms official told Reuters the government had blocked the Internet without consulting telecoms firms but the Sudanese embassy in Washington blamed what it described as damage of some telecoms facilities by protesters.
Bashir has remained in power almost 25 years despite armed rebellions, U.S. trade sanctions, an economic crisis, an attempted coup last year and the warrant for his arrest issued by the International Criminal Court.
Washington has led calls for Bashir to face international justice over bloodshed in the now decade-old conflict in Sudan's Darfur region. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. had previously called Bashir's intention to travel to New York "deplorable".
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz and Ulf Laessing; editing by Mark Heinrich)
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