Khartoum/London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Protests over cuts in fuel subsidies recently introduced by the government of Omar Al-Bashir have entered their fourth day, paralyzing the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
The protests are the largest the country has seen since Bashir came to power in 1989.
Unrest quickly spread to other Sudanese cities which witnessed riots and acts of sabotage leaving at least 27 civilians dead, medical sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday. As of Friday, media reports indicated that the death toll in the nation-wide protests stood closer to 50.
The medical source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that most of those killed had been shot in the head and chest, indicating that snipers were deliberately targeting protesters.
Thousands of protestors set fire to scores of cars, 20 petrol stations, and one bank, blocking main roads by setting tires on fire.
Shops and businesses also remained closed in the center of the capital which was cut off from the rest of the city.
In several key cities, including Khartoum, angry protestors held banners and chanted slogans demanding the toppling of Omar Al-Bashir’s regime in unprecedented scenes in the sub-Saharan country.
The government stepped up its security measures near banks and the headquarters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) while the Sudanese media reported that schools and universities would be shut for a week.
Internet and mobile services were also down across the country.
The government had reportedly ordered the military forces to t take to the streets in a bid to quell the protests.
In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Army spokesman Col. Asl-Saarmi Khaled denied that the government had mobilized the military against the protesters.
“No orders have been issued by any [military] leaders to break up the protests,” he said.
On Wednesday, Sudan’s First Vice President Ali Osman Taha announced that the government would not go back on its decisions to lifting fuel subsidies, inciting further protesters on Thursday and Friday.
Taha said that his government did not reject peaceful demonstrations but would not tolerate what he described as “saboteurs.”
The first vice president also threatened to unleash supporters of the ruling party onto the streets in order to “protect public and private property from saboteurs.”
On Friday, Khartoum escalated its operations against anti-government media, suspending the publication of the Al-Sudani and Al-Ayyam newspapers.
Another newspaper, Al-Jareeda, was reported to have withheld its Friday issue in protests against the government, which has prevented it from covering the unrest.
Two other newspapers, Al-Karar and Alwan, were unable to publish an edition on Friday due to the unrest that had engulfed the country.
The government continues to ignore the demands of protestors, referring to the events as acts of sabotage carried out by a small group of “homeless” people, accusing the opposition of taking advantage of the recent price hikes to instigate the violence.
Sudanese authorities also banned the country’s opposition political parties from meeting at Dar Al-Azhari, the residence of Sudan’s first president. Security forces encircled the residence early on Friday, preventing opposition leaders and journalists from approaching.
Barma Nasser, Awsat a member of the Umma National Party, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the government had taken the decision to prevent the opposition meeting from taking place, adding that the opposition is seeking to reach a negotiated solution to prevent further security deterioration and the Somalization of the country.
Nasser added that the Sudanese opposition parties will seek to meet in secret in the near future to discuss the crisis.
A number of the country’s journalists called for a strike in a protest against security restrictions and the tight censorship imposed on the media.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Sudanese journalist told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We are not going to work because our coverage of the events and protests are not getting published by orders from the security authorities.”
Mustafa Sirri contributed reporting.