Sudan sees Egypt-inspired protests in the North, jubilation on referendum in the South

Antigovernment protests in North Sudan led to the death of a university student Sunday while South Sudanese celebrated an overwhelming vote for independence.

Pete Muller/AP Photo
Southern Sudanese celebrate the announcement of preliminary referendum results in the southern capital of Juba on Sunday, Jan. 30. Referendum officials indicated that nearly 99 percent of all voters cast ballots in favor of southern independence.

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Protesters in northern Sudan gained their first “martyr” late Sunday night when a student died in the hospital from injuries sustained in a police confrontation. The protests, which were inspired by neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, started Sunday. They came as South Sudan announced the near-unanimous results of its referendum vote on secession from the north.

Hundreds of young people in the country’s north were beaten by police with batons in the sporadic antigovernment protests. Armed police surrounded at least six universities today to prevent students from leaving the campuses, according to Reuters. Students in Khartoum University were tear gassed in their dormitories late Sunday, leaving at least five injured.

The news wire adds that students in north Sudan began clashing with police over rising food and petrol prices earlier this month, but protests have grown after demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt gained attention. Demonstrators have begun to call for regime change and widened their list of complaints to include corruption and the country’s practice of sentencing women to be lashed.

The police were not immediately able to comment on the death, and the morgue holding the demonstrator’s body declined to comment to Reuters. The BBC identifies the activist as Mohammed Abdulrahman, a student at Ahaliya University in Omdurman. It also reports that one human rights activist said Mr. Abdulrahman had been shot.

The Sudan Tribune notes that north Sudan already faces an economic crisis and stands to lose billions in oil revenue as the oil-rich south secedes. Opposition forces blame the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for the worsening economy and the secession of the south, the Tribune adds.

The north’s clashes contrast with the scenes of cheer in South Sudan capital Juba yesterday, where spontaneous dancing broke out as the first official announcement on the referendum showed that more than 99 percent of voters favored independence. The Christian Science Monitor reported that many South Sudanese chose to leave their jobs and lives in the north as the referendum approached, and the United Nations expects another 100,000 to migrate south in the next month. (See a map of north-south divisions here.)

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the African Union summit in Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa on Sunday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised the peaceful announcement of the referendum results. He warned, however, that border demarcation and the status of Abyei, a disputed region along the north-south border, could become issues as the south approaches its July 2011 independence, according to the Sudan Tribune.

Longtime Sudan observer Peter Moszynski, a documentary maker in the country’s south, adds a note of caution to the south’s jubilation, recounting the nation’s difficulty spurring development and need to properly harness its oil revenues. He writes in the Guardian:

The discovery of oil was also a major factor in the return to conflict. (Demonstrations in Khartoum over the weekend show people in the north are already uneasy about the region's economic problems. Some protesters called for president Omar al-Bashir to step down). It remains to be seen whether oil revenue can be successfully shared and harnessed to help drive agricultural development, as southern Sudan's transitional government says it plans to do, or if border tensions mean these revenues will continue to be squandered on military expenditure – currently 40 percent of its budget.

Southern Sudan's previous experience of failed post-war reconstruction efforts surely demonstrate the need to focus any potential peace dividend on development initiatives that bring positive benefits to its citizens and reverses the previous decades of decline.

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