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Is Sudan having its own 'Arab Spring?'

Prompted by rising prices for food, housing, and fuel, student protests have spread to cities across the country. Will the government's harsh crackdown backfire and fuel the movement?

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While the protesters thus far have been entirely unarmed, Sudanese police have reportedly responded with great force. Human Rights Watch, the New York based rights group, says that eyewitnesses and participants reported beatings, arrests, and attacks with tear gas, truncheons, and rubber bullets.

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“Sudan is using these protests as an excuse to use violence and intimidation to silence dissenters,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch in an emailed statement. “Authorities should call off their security forces and vigilantes, end the violence immediately, and respect the right of the people to protest peacefully.”

Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the US State Department, condemned the Sudanese government’s crackdown, Reuters reported. “The heavy-handed approach adopted by Sudanese security forces is disproportionate and deeply concerning,” she said.

The Bashir government’s tactics may seem harsh, but they are not paranoid. Supporters of the protest movement say their goal is every bit as ambitious as that of the Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan protesters: the downfall of the regime.

“People are adamant to bring this regime down and are for the first time getting united over this [even with the south],” says Omar Yahia Elfadli, an opposition activist who now supports the protest movement from exile in Paris.

“We also urge the international community [to] stand by us and support us to make our peaceful change,” he adds. “A quarter of a [century] of the rule of ... Bashir has now incurred too much damage ... and we are now back to square one and worse.”

Wael, an opposition activist in Khartoum who declines to have his surname published to protect his family, tells the Monitor that students started protesting more than a week ago because of higher prices and what he calls “deteriorating economic conditions.” Opposition activists joined the students later, using University of Khartoum’s campus as a base, but Wael says the security services responded with extreme force.

“The police used excessive violence,” says Wael, referring to protests held over the weekend. “The police used tear gas, sticks, and gangs of people close to the regime to beat up the students.” The students are not intimidated, Wael says, but in fact have become more angered by the police tactics. “There will be ongoing protests,” he says, spreading beyond Khartoum to Kosti, Gedaref, Kassala, Wad Medani, as well as continuing protests in El-Obeid and Port Sudan.

“There are protests happening now,” he says. “We go out at night to protest for fear of the police and the gang government.”

“The goal of the ruling party is to sabotage the work of civil servants and to stay in the wheel of power,” Wael says. “But the idea of the struggle of civil disobedience over the long term is that we must demonstrate and protest until the regime falls.”

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