Sudan on Tuesday blocked internet access nationwide as pro-democracy activists marked the first anniversary of a coup that derailed the transition to civilian rule, with hunger and inflation throttling the country.
Waving Sudanese flags, protesters defied authorities who have launched repeated deadly crackdowns on past rallies, chanting “power to the people” and demanding that “soldiers go back to the barracks”.
A year ago to the day, army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan seized power and arrested the civilian leaders with whom he had agreed to share power in 2019 when mass protests compelled the army to depose one of its own, long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
As demonstrations gathered across the northeast African country on Tuesday, authorities launched a “nation-scale internet disruption,” online monitor NetBlocks said, a regular tactic when mass protests are planned.
In Atbara, north of the capital Khartoum, hundreds of students on Tuesday took to the streets, resident Adel Mohamed said.
Ahead of planned rallies on Tuesday, protesters insisted that “the revolution continues”, and called for the creation of “a politically and economically-free Sudan, a civil democratic Sudan.”
– Security forces deployed –
The authorities in Khartoum ordered all public institutions, schools, and businesses shut down Tuesday, as security forces deployed heavily throughout the city, blocking roads and bridges.
For a year, near-weekly anti-coup protests have been met with force, most recently on Sunday when a protester was killed by a bullet fired by security forces, according to pro-democracy medics.
At least 118 people have been killed while demanding a return to civilian rule, a condition for Western governments to resume crucial aid they had halted in response to the coup.
Cut off from such aid, Sudan -– already one of the world’s poorest countries –- has plunged into a worsening economic crisis.
Between three-digit inflation and chronic food shortages, a third of Sudan’s 45 million inhabitants suffer from hunger, a 50 percent increase compared to 2021, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
The cost of food staples has jumped 137 percent in one year, which WFP says has forced Sudanese to spend “more than two-thirds of their income on food alone, leaving little money to cover other needs”.
Many worries that three years after the 2019 uprising that toppled Bashir, signs point to a reversal of their revolution.
Since the coup, several Bashir-era loyalists have been appointed to official positions, including in the judiciary, which is currently trying the former dictator.
Sudan is mired in uncertainty. Burhan’s pledge of elections next year is seen as far-fetched.
No civilian leaders have taken up the mantle of the army chief’s promised civilian government and international mediation efforts remain stalled.
“Sudan doesn’t have the luxury of zero-sum games and political manoeuvres,” UN envoy to Sudan Volker Perthes said Saturday. “All political actors need to put aside differences and focus on the best interest of the Sudanese people.”
– Deadly clashes –
On Friday, 31 protesters were injured, including three who were hit in the eye by tear gas canisters, according to pro-democracy medics.
Western embassies on Monday urged security forces “to refrain from using violence against protesters and to fulfil their obligation to protect freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly”.
Even as security forces are mobilised to counter-protests, a broader security breakdown nationwide has left nearly 600 dead and more than 210,000 displaced as a result of ethnic violence, according to the United Nations.
In the southern Blue Nile state, some 250 people were killed in intense clashes between rival groups over land last week, the UN said, the latest bout of ethnic violence in the state.
Sudan has enjoyed only brief spells of democratic rule over the decades.