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Sudan revolt -- as far-fetched as licking your elbow? [Video]

June 29, 2012 |  1:05 pm

The Sudanese government has derided protests calling for its ouster as "elbow licking" -- an impossible act. So protesters in Khartoum dubbed it "Elbow Licking Friday" and poured onto the streets of the Sudanese capital.

Protesters have staged nearly two weeks of demonstrations in Sudan, where the rallies have raised hopes for a "Sudan Spring" paralleling the protests that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Activists say thousands of people turned out for protests Friday in at least a dozen cities across Sudan. In the video above, uploaded to YouTube on Friday by opposition activists and said to be taken in Omdurman, protesters raise their fists and chant, "The people want the downfall of the regime!"

Triggered by a government decision to scrap fuel subsidies, the rallies have become a bigger push against President Omar Bashir, the repressive leader who has held power since a 1989 coup. The activist group Girifna, for instance, has demanded sweeping changes, including the resignation of the government, releasing political prisoners and ending "the ethnic monopoly over power."

"If the budget problems were solved tomorrow, would people stop protesting? I doubt it very much," a Girifna adviser said Friday, speaking anonymously for security reasons. "People are very frustrated with the regime. What does the government stand for? They talk about unity. We’re separated. They’re talking about peace. Now we have more war than before." 

Government forces used rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters Friday, the Girifna adviser said. Human rights groups and activists say the government has arrested, beaten and shot at protesters to try to squelch the movement; journalists trying to cover the protests have been detained. Security agents raided an Agence France-Presse bureau Friday in Khartoum and arrested one local journalist, the news agency said.

The State Department condemned the arrests earlier this week and called for the release of peaceful protesters, as did United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

"Tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and other heavy-handed suppression will not resolve the frustrations and grievances of the people regarding shortcomings in their enjoyment of economic, social, civil and political rights," Pillay said Thursday.

Bashir, meanwhile, has downplayed the unrest as the work of a few "agitators" or "bubbles," not a true revolt. Overthrowing the regime is in "the realm of impossibility," Vice President Al-Haj Adam Youssef said Wednesday, according to the Sudan Tribune

Agitating to prove them wrong, Sudanese activists promoted the Friday protests with online images of a young man nearly touching his tongue to his elbow and, riffing off a famous British slogan, "Keep Calm and Lick Your Elbow."

Girifna, whose name means "we are fed up," has also called for Saturday protests beyond Sudan, at Sudanese embassies in Cairo, London, Paris, New York and other cities.

Sudan is already under pressure from its own economic woes, the result of South Sudan splitting away and shutting off oil pipelines. Last month, the Sudanese government grew so desperate it started sending out text messages begging for donations to its military. Stopping the fuel subsidies was part of a package of government cuts aimed at slowing the financial bleeding in Sudan.

"There's just no way they can maintain things as they are with the economy in the gutter and staggering corruption still rampant. The regime needs to go," Amir Ahmad, a Sudanese blogger writing from outside the country, said in an email to The Times. "How and in what way that will happen remains to be seen. But things as they are cannot be sustained. Anger is rising, and the fear barrier is crumbling."

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Video: A clip uploaded to YouTube on Friday by opposition activists purports to show protests in the Sudanese city of Omdurman.

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