Protests against cuts rage nearly a week in Sudan [Video]

Protests against the Sudanese government have raged for almost a week, triggered by its decision to end fuel subsidies and impose other spending cuts.

The government says the cuts are needed to survive the economic plunge the country has suffered since South Sudan split away and shut off oil production. The decisions enraged Sudanese students and others already hurting from soaring prices for food and other necessities.

Opposition leaders say the student demonstrations against rising costs have escalated into a larger call to overthrow President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, and they have spurred an aggressive police crackdown. Journalists and bloggers trying to cover the protests have also been detained, including reporters for Bloomberg and Agence France-Presse.

"Our 'offense' is we are searching for freedom, and this is a crime in Sudan," Saata Ahmed al-Haj, head of the opposition Sudanese Commission for Defense of Freedoms and Rights, told the Associated Press on Thursday, describing protesters being rounded up, stripped naked and flogged. "This is the outcome of political, economic and military suffocation felt by people here."

Those seeking change in Sudan, a repressive state accused of rampant corruption, have looked hopefully to the protests as the first seeds of a revolution like those that toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia. Sudanese activists have agitated online for more foreign media coverage of the protests, believing that a "Sudan Spring" could be quickened by the spotlight.

Mobilizing Sudanese citizens against the government is difficult because they lack a clear alternative, Nesrine Malik, a Sudanese-born commentator who lives in London, wrote in a piece for the Guardian.

"But an economic crisis, armed conflict along the borders, a stalemate with South Sudan on sharing the oil yield and a malfunctioning political system might all render a popular uprising unnecessary, and cripple the government from within," Malik wrote.

Bashir, who gained power decades ago through a coup, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity tied to the Sudanese crackdown against rebels in the Darfur region.


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Video: Sudanese protesters march in the city of Omdurman near Khartoum on Friday. The video was posted online by Sudanese activists.

Water will run out in 9 days for Sudan refugees, aid agency warns


Water will run out in just nine days for tens of thousands of refugees who have fled from Sudan into South Sudan, overwhelming the few camps in a parched stretch of Upper Nile state, the aid agency Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday.

Many of the exhausted refugees are dying from diarrhea, another threat exacerbated by the scarcity of clean water in the overcrowded camps, the aid agency said. Dozens of children are brought in suffering from malnutrition daily.

The onslaught of the rainy season, a seeming boon for dehydrated refugees, is worsening the situation, drowning out access roads to deliver treated water to those who need it.

"Food was scarce. Water was contaminated. I’ve seen people dying," Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator Voltek Asztabski said. Aid agencies have provided food and water, but the water will soon run out for an estimated 20,000 people in temporary settlements strung along the road from the Sudanese border. "These people need to be relocated as soon as possible."

The sheer number of refugees flowing into South Sudan has surprised aid agencies, straining their resources. Two camps are already bursting. A third camp is being created, but aid agencies fear that even the new camp will not be enough to hold the flood of newly arrived refugees.

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Refugees of 2011 underline 'suffering on an epic scale'

One in four new refugees in 2011 were from Afghanistan.

More people became refugees in 2011 than in any other year since the new millennium began, with one out of every four of them coming from Afghanistan, the United Nations refugee agency reported Monday.

The agency called the new numbers a sign of “suffering on an epic scale.”

Though more than 800,000 people fled across borders last year, the highest number since 2000, the number of people displaced worldwide actually dropped as millions of people returned to their homes, the agency said.

All in all, 42.5-million people were displaced or seeking asylum last year, a figure that could actually be higher since many countries do not report the number of people believed to be stateless.

Afghanistan produced the most refugees, followed by Iraq, Somalia and Sudan. Most fled to neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Kenya; Pakistan hosted more than 1.7-million refugees last year, the largest number in the world according to government estimates. Nearly all of them came from Afghanistan.

The U.N. refugee agency said while growing numbers of displaced people have returned home, it is alarmed that almost three out of every four refugees under its watch have been exiled from their homes for at least five years, many of them languishing in refugee camps.

The report was released ahead of World Refugee Day on Wednesday. The day comes as the agency is grappling with several new crises.

The U.N. recently lamented a dire shortfall of funding to help people uprooted by conflict in northern Mali, where Tuareg rebels have declared their own state. Bangladesh has turned away Rohingya Muslims trying to leave Myanmar after a recent eruption of ethnic violence, despite calls from the U.N. and other countries to allow them in. And in South Sudan, tens of thousands of refugees crossing from Sudan are suffering from deadly dehydration.


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Photo: Afghan refugees travel on a truck as they cross the border between their homeland and Pakistan  at Torkham on May 20. Credit: A. Majeed / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.

Video purports to show soldiers burning village in southern Sudan

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Cellphone video footage purportedly showing soldiers burning a village in southern Sudan emerged Monday, Associated Press reported.

The video, which was shown to the news service but not released, reportedly was found by the  nongovernmental organization Nuba Reports, which exposes bombings and other attacks on southern Sudan people by the military.

Ryan Boyette, 31, an American who is married to a Sudanese health worker and lives in the South Kordofan region of Sudan, where many of the attacks have taken place, provided the video to the news service.

In May, he posted an account of an attack on his village by Sudanese planes, including a bomb that fell some 50 yards from his home.

Boyette told AP that the cellphone video was found on the body of a dead Sudanese soldier and is believed to have been filmed by the dead man.

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Poll: 52% of Jewish Israelis say illegal African migrants a 'cancer'

African migrants

More than half of Jewish Israelis polled in May agreed that Africans living illegally in Israel are “a cancer in the body” of the country, backing the controversial words of an Israeli lawmaker.

The new poll from the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University is a sign of how deep the backlash against African migrants goes in Israel, a country founded by refugees that has seen angry and sometimes violent resistance to the new influx from Eritrea, Sudan and elsewhere in Africa.

The Times’ Edmund Sanders has recently reported on a string of attacks and harassment against migrants such as 60-year-old Berhun Gergrehra, a former Eritrean soldier:

Leaning against the charred remains of his fence, Gergrehra said the recent attack was the second time his house had been firebombed in a year.

"We're thinking about leaving," he said. "This country just won't accept us."

Though the attacks spurred outcry against racism and xenophobia in Israel, the new poll showed strong support for the recent Tel Aviv protests against African immigrants, with more than four out of five Jewish Israelis saying they backed the demonstrations.

Perhaps even more strikingly, more than a third said they could identify with the violence that followed, as angry mobs smashed store windows and attacked a car carrying Africans. The researchers called the number surprisingly high, "considering that most people do not tend to openly report sympathy for acts that are broadly condemned by society." More religious Israelis were more likely to sympathize.

Six hundred Israelis were polled, including Arab Israelis, who were much less likely to object to the African immigrants. Only 19% of Arab Israelis agreed that African illegal immigrants were a "cancer" and only 25% backed the Tel Aviv protests against them.

Other findings from the new poll included:

- Though disdain for refugees might seem to result from daily friction with foreigners, most of the Jewish Israelis who were polled said there were few refugees where they lived or none at all.

- While more than half of Jewish Israelis were tolerant of foreign workers from Eastern Europe, Thailand or the Philippines, nearly three out of four said they were disturbed by Sudanese or Eritrean workers.

- Among both Jewish and Arab Israelis, strong majorities oppose the idea of an open-door policy toward refugees who were persecuted in their countries of origin.


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Photo: An African woman from Eritrea walks by Hebrew graffiti that says "Get out of the neighborhood" in Jerusalem. Credit: Abir Sultan / European Pressphoto Agency

Sudan, South Sudan renew talks after tilt toward war

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Sudan and South Sudan held high-level talks Monday seeking to resolve disputes over oil revenues and their shared border, the first negotiations since a dangerous slide toward war in April.

The talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, came after the United Nations threatened sanctions unless the two sides returned to the negotiating table and reached a peace deal. The move came after each side withdrew from disputed oil-producing areas near the border that they had occupied — South Sudan from Heglig and Sudan from Abyei.

The dispute saw South Sudan turn off oil production earlier this year. The move was meant to stop alleged Sudanese theft of oil, but it cost the south 98% of its oil revenue and plunged it into an economic crisis. Sudan's economy was hit when 75% of the country's oil went to South Sudan when it seceded last July.

With South Sudan's economy in tatters, food and fuel shortages and inflation reaching 80%, President Salva Kiir made the shocking admission that some $4 billion of his country's public funds had been stolen by government officials since a 2005 peace deal which saw the two countries agree to share oil revenue.

He offered an amnesty and anonymity to government officials who returned the money to the government.

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Rights groups slam death-by-stoning sentence for Sudanese woman

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Human rights groups have called for Sudan to abolish death by stoning as prescribed legal punishment after a young woman convicted of adultery was ordered executed by a Sudanese court.

The woman, Intisar Sharif Abdallah, who is married, give birth five months ago and is currently being held, with her baby, outside Khartoum, according to Human Rights Watch.

"No one should be stoned to death, and imposing this punishment on someone who may be a child is especially shocking," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director for Human Rights Watch.

Abdallah's age has not been verified, although Sudanese rights groups suggest she may be under the age of 18. Under Sudanese law, a minor cannot be sentenced to death, and a defendant is entitled to a lawyer in court.

A statement by Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), a women’s rights group following the case, said Abdallah admitted guilt after she was beaten and tortured by her brother, who instigated the case against her. The conviction is based solely on her admission under duress, according to rights groups.

The organization quoted Abdallah's lawyer as saying that she initially pleaded innocent, but changed her plea. Although Sudanese legal authorities have given her age as 20, SIHA said she is between 15 and 17.

SIHA said after she initially denied the charge the case was thrown out of court. She was then repeatedly beaten and tortured by her brother, confessed to adultery and was returned to court where she was convicted.

"She is understood to be deeply traumatized and is without access to suitable psycho-social support. Her newborn child is also with her in prison whilst she is shackled at the ankles, struggling to nurse him. Her co-accused, having maintained his denial of adultery, has therefore not been charged and now walks free," the SIHA statement said, adding that her lawyer was only allowed to see her after she had been convicted and sentenced to death.

"Abdallah did not even receive the benefit of protections in Sudan’s own laws," said Bekele, of Human Rights Watch. “Authorities should drop the charges and free her immediately."

Amnesty International issued an urgent request for people to send letters to Sudanese authorities before July 6, calling for the execution to be halted.

"It is clear that the punishment of stoning is designed to cause the victim grievous pain before leading to death. Such methods of execution specifically designed to increase the suffering of victims are of particular concern to Amnesty International, as an extreme and cruel form of torture," the Amnesty International statement said.

Bekele said the case underscored the need for Sudan to reform its legal system in accordance with human rights standards.

"The court relied solely on her coerced confession to convict and sentence her in a single court session, while the man alleged to have committed adultery with her denied the charges and was released," a lawyer working with SIHA told Human Rights Watch, Bekele said.

He said pro bono lawyers in Sudan had launched an appeal.

Sudanese courts have sentenced several women to death by stoning in recent years, but the sentences have been overturned on appeal. Other countries where sharia law is practiced and allow the sentence of death by stoning include Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, parts of Nigeria, Iraq, Indonesia and Somalia.


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African Union to press Sudan and South Sudan on peace talks

Thabo Mbeki, right, at Khartoum airportJOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki flew to Khartoum on Thursday after Sudan and South Sudan missed a U.N. Security Council deadline to resume peace talks.

Mbeki, the former South African president, is expected to spend two days in Sudan before visiting South Sudan, to press both sides to return to talks to resolve their disputes over oil transit fees, their border and other issues.

The peace effort comes with the U.N. and aid agencies warning of a growing humanitarian catastrophe due to the conflict. The U.N. said this week that half South Sudan's population faced possible hunger this year.

Early this month, after the two countries lurched dangerously toward war, the Security Council gave them two weeks to resume peace talks and threatened them with sanctions if they failed to take steps to settle their differences.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July, and though Khartoum agreed to its independence, relations have continued to deteriorate in disputes left unresolved in a 2005 peace agreement, which ended 22 years of civil war.

South Sudan turned off oil production in February after Sudan seized several shipments of southern oil in a row over oil transit fees, and relations have soured further since. The situation reached a flash point when South Sudan took control of Sudan's most important oil-producing area, Heglig, on April 10, occupying it for 10 days before withdrawing.

Both countries are dependent on oil and face a growing economic crisis without oil revenue. Both are seeing sharply rising prices for food and fuel and collapsing currencies.

Johnnie Carson, U.S. assistant secretary of State on Africa, on Wednesday called on both sides to return to the negotiating table.

"Let me say that both sides bear a great amount of responsibility for creating the difficulties that exist today," Carson said in a conference call with African journalists. "It is incumbent on both parties to seriously negotiate their issues. They have to come to the table and meet on a regular basis and live up to the commitments that they make.

"They must sit down and seriously negotiate their differences and recognize that they cannot make progress on the battlefield."

Carson said Mbeki was encouraging both sides to put proposals on the table regarding their key disputes.

"While there has not been a full resumption of discussions between the two sides, things are being done," Carson said. "We want them to be done much faster, and with greater alacrity and commitment."

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned in a report Tuesday that South Sudan could face destitution less than a year after its birth.

The office said the oil shutdown and budget austerity measures could push millions of South Sudanese into destitution, as fuel and food prices rose sharply. Adding to the pressure were the 130,000 refugees in South Sudan from Sudan and other neighboring countries.

The agency said about 4.7 million people -– well over half of the population -- were at risk of hunger this year, including at least a million who faced severe food shortages. The remaining 3.7 million would need food aid to avoid slipping into severe crisis.

Oxfam and four other humanitarian agencies warned Tuesday that with the rainy season beginning, the humanitarian refugee crisis could soon become a catastrophe.

“A toxic combination of conflict, rising food and fuel prices, and severe cash shortages is having a devastating effect on the civilian population in both countries. With the rains on the way the situation could not be more critical. We urgently need the fighting to stop so that we can get access and children can be protected from violence, deprivation, displacement and recruitment," said Jon Cuncliffe, Save the Children country director for South Sudan in a joint statement with other humanitarian agency officials.

"After more than 10 months of fighting, with no sign of peace, we're on the path from crisis to catastrophe," said Johnson Byamukama, Oxfam's deputy country director for South Sudan. "The coming rains could make life for refugees unbearable and bring the threat of waterborne disease. The world needs to wake up to the true cost of conflict for people who have already suffered so many years of war."


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Photo: African Union mediator and former South African President Thabo Mbeki, center, arrives at Khartoum airport May 17, 2012. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

South Sudan austerity budget in doubt; economic collapse feared

Sudan after invasion
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Just a month after South Sudan announced an austerity budget designed to fend off economic collapse, the struggling country had already failed to meet its targets, a source close to the South Sudanese government acknowledged.

The claim comes on the heels of a leaked World Bank report warning that the world's newest country could collapse in chaos by July because of its decision to shut down oil production, which brought in 98% of its revenue.

The World Bank suggested that if South Sudan managed to cut spending by 43%, to 500 million South Sudanese pounds a month ($120 million), it would still run out of money by October.

But the government's austerity budget target in March was 650 million South Sudanese pounds; by April, the target had risen to more than 800 million South Sudanese pounds, the source said.

The soaring target underscored questions about the government's ability to manage the crisis and raised fears that reserves could run out by June or July, sparking a massive social crisis in a country still emerging from a long independence war with Sudan.

Western nations have warned South Sudan they will not step in with new aid.

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South Sudan may face fiscal collapse by July, leaked report says


This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

South Sudan could run out of reserves and possibly face "state collapse" as soon as July after shutting off its oil, according to a confidential report leaked to news media that appears to be from the World Bank.

The March memo, first reported and later released by the Sudan Tribune, paints a dire picture of the economic crisis ahead for South Sudan, the world's newest country.

The fledgling nation shut off its oil wells in January in a dispute with Sudan, saying that it wasn’t getting its fair share of the wealth. The two sides had sparred over the transit fees that Sudan charges to get the oil to market, with South Sudan accusing Sudan of stealing "enormous volumes" of its oil.

Border hostilities between South Sudan and Sudan, which fought a 22-year independence war, have recently threatened to add United Nations sanctions to their economic woes.

Though it would not directly answer questions about the authenticity of the memo, the World Bank said it had recently assessed the economic situation of South Sudan at its request and was "deeply concerned" about the effect of the oil dispute on both countries, "particularly the most vulnerable."

The leaked memo recounts a briefing to the United States, Britain and other "key donors" by World Bank official Marcelo Giugale. According to the memo, Giugale called the shutoff "shocking" and told donors that "the World Bank has never seen a situation as dramatic as the one faced by South Sudan."

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