State of emergency declared in Sudanese city after party headquarters torched

Sadiq al-Mahdi, Sudan's ex-prime minister and leader of the opposition National Umma Party, addresses supporters as he speaks in the capital Khartoum on Dec 19, 2018.
Sadiq al-Mahdi, Sudan's ex-prime minister and leader of the opposition National Umma Party, addresses supporters as he speaks in the capital Khartoum on Dec 19, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

KHARTOUM (REUTERS) - A state of emergency was declared in the Sudanese city of Atbara after hundreds of people protested against price increases and set fire to the local headquarters of the ruling party, officials from Nile River state said.

A curfew was declared from 6pm to 6am in Atbara - Sudan's railway hub, with a large railworker population manning various lines, interchanges and maintenance workshops - the state security committee said.

While small rallies have broken out in other cities, the demonstrations were larger in Atbara, which is historically a hotbed for anti-government protest.

"Today, the headquarters of the ruling party in the city of Atbara and the headquarters of the local government and a fuel station were burned," Mr Hatem al-Wassilah, governor of the Nile River state, said on Sudania 24 TV.

"The protests began peacefully and then turned to violence and vandalism... We declared a state of emergency and a curfew and the closure of schools in the city."

It was not immediately clear what the extent of the damage was at any of the buildings, or whether the fires were still ablaze.

Mr Wassilah said the demonstrations had broken out over an increase in the price of bread to 3 pounds (8 Singapore cents) from 1 pound because of the lack of subsidised bread flour in the state.

A decision to reduce bread subsidies this year sparked rare nationwide protests in Sudan after bread prices doubled. But Sudan increased flour subsidies by 40 per cent in November.

Port Sudan, the capital of Red Sea state, also saw limited protests on Wednesday (Dec 19), witnesses told Reuters.

Sudan's annual inflation edged up to 68.93 per cent in November from 68.44 per cent in October.

Prime Minister Motazz Moussa said inflation for the full year 2018 was expected to be 63 per cent.

Severe shortages of fuel and bread, both subsidised by the government, have forced people in the capital and other cities to queue at bakeries and petrol stations.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Moussa said Sudan's 2019 budget included 66 billion Sudanese pounds (S$1.9 billion) in subsidies, 53 billion pounds of which is for fuel and bread.