Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Sudan Friday in the latest wave of anti-government demonstrations that have taken place for more than two weeks.
Police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators who gathered after noon prayers in the capital city of Khartoum, The Associated Press reports. Protesters demanded the upheaval of the country’s military regime, chanting “freedom, peace, justice” and carrying banners with the Arabic command for “leave.”
Similar protests filled streets across the country, from the Red Sea city of Port Sudan to Atbara, where the first demonstrations took place on Dec. 19.
Sparked by rising prices after the government announced it would end bread subsidies, as NPR’s Eyder Peralta reports, the protests have become an outpouring of anger toward President Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled the country for nearly three decades.
“It’s not about economics,” a protester named Wael told NPR. “It’s about — They are not going to improve the country. I am 25 years old. I cannot see my future here inside this country.”
At least 19 demonstrators have died, according to a United Nations estimate from a week ago, a result of escalating violence by Sudan’s security forces. Amnesty International reported a higher estimate of at least 37 people shot and killed. U.N. officials raised concerns about arbitrary arrests and called for an investigation into the violence.
Bread prices have skyrocketed along with inflation, and shelves are bare, as Peralta reports. Economic insecurity has plagued Sudan since the oil-producing southern third of the country seceded in 2011, becoming South Sudan. Meanwhile, perceived mismanagement and corruption in the military government have raised tensions.
“Life is hard is what he’s saying,” said Peralta, of the young Sudanese man. “But he feels like the government does have the resources and they’re just misusing it. They’re looking out for themselves, he says, so President Omar al-Bashir has to go.”
Protesters in previous days have chanted what translates to, “The people demand the fall of the regime,” in echoes of protests that toppled governments across the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring.
Sudanese people also took to the in 2011 streets to protest rising prices and political repression, and they were met with a sharp crackdown by Bashir. Sparks of unrest in 2013 followed a similar pattern.
“Analysts I’ve spoken to say this is a bit different,” Peralta says. “There [are] a lot more people on the streets, and this seems like an emboldened protest movement. Across the country, we’ve seen reports that protesters have attacked government buildings.”
So-called “bread protests” have broken out sporadically for the past few years in Sudan, including last year, when the government similarly announced it would eliminate bread subsidies. The latest protests have primarily demanded the resignation of Bashir, rather than the renewal of subsidies. But anti-government sentiments and food riots have gone hand-in-hand throughout recent history in the Middle East and North Africa.
In 1977, thousands of Egyptians rose up in the country’s “bread riots” that left dozens dead. Crowds of students gathered around the Egyptian Parliament, chanting “Sayed Marei, millionaire” in reference to the wealth of the Parliament’s speaker, as The Washington Post reported at the time.
In Jordan, protests broke out over food prices in 1989 and again in 1996, when protesters set fire to government buildings and called for the removal of the prime minister.
In response to Sudanese protests, President Bashir has promised economic measures that include continued subsidies on basic food items and an increase in wages, but he has not offered details, AP reports. He has also blamed the protests on agents and infiltrators looking to exploit the country’s economic hardships.
Bashir has governed Sudan since a military coup in 1989 toppled the country’s last freely elected leader. The International Criminal Court indicted Bashir in 2010 for genocide and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.