Grief, hardship to mark grim Eid in Sudan

AFP , Saturday 12 Oct 2013

Grieving for dozens dead from fuel price hikes and suffering from inflation, cut subsidies will mean a difficult Eid for many Sudanese

Sudan Protests (Photo: AP)

Grieving over deaths during recent protests and struggling with economic hardship, Sudanese say they will face a grim Eid Al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice, next week.

Abbas Mohammed Ahmad, 28, says he is mourning his brother killed in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman during the late-September demonstrations sparked by rising fuel prices.

"I can't describe my emotions," said Ahmad, a veterinary surgeon who had set his wedding for the day after Eid, Sudan's most important holiday which this year falls next Tuesday.

"I planned a big ceremony with my friends and family. But now there will be no ceremony, only the wedding," he said.

"Even Eid itself will be completely different."

Thousands of people, many of them Khartoum-area poor, took to the streets after September 23 when the government cut fuel subsidies.

The protests and their Arab Spring-inspired calls for the downfall of the regime were the worst urban unrest of President Omar Al-Bashir's 24-year rule.

Amnesty International said security forces are believed to have killed more than 200 protesters, many of whom were shot in the head or chest.

Authorities report 60-70 deaths, and say they had to intervene when crowds turned violent, attacking petrol stations and police.

The government's slashing of subsidies sent the retail prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas soaring by more than 60 percent.

Bashir said the move aimed to prevent the "collapse" of an economy beset by inflation and an unstable currency since the separation of South Sudan.

Khartoum lost billions of dollars in export earnings when the South became independent in 2011, taking with it most of Sudan's oil production.

Sudanese have endured two years of rising prices, a sinking currency and an unemployment rate estimated to exceed 30 percent.

The country ranks near the bottom of international indexes of corruption, human development and press freedom.

"We are facing difficult times," said Hannan Jadain, who sells tea from the roadside in South Khartoum.

"For Eid we normally need to buy a lot of things, but the prices of everything have gone up. I don't think this Eid will be the same as before," she said.

"We lost many youths in the demonstrations. But we are also sad because we can't provide our children with what they need."

Those who can afford it will slaughter a sheep, but they cost around 1,000 pounds ($130 at the widely used black market rate) -- an impossible expense for many.

"I have no money to get it," said one man who preferred not to be named.

A freelance clerk, he said he is lucky to get 10 pounds a day to support his wife and two children, but he actually needs at least 80 pounds for essentials such as sugar, bread, cooking oil and "maybe a little bit of meat".

"Most of the time we eat 'foul'," a staple bean dish, the man said.

He thanked God for what he has but appealed for help from international organisations.

"We are trying our best," he said.

Eid Al-Adha is one of the rituals associated with the Hajj, which Muslims are required to make to Mecca, if they have the means to do so.

Pilgrims offer sacrifices by slaughtering a sheep, whose meat is distributed to the needy.

To help ease the burden on Sudan's poor as fuel prices rise, the government says around 700,000 poor families will receive handouts of about 150 pounds a month.

Among other measures, it says it has also increased the monthly minimum wage for civil servants to 425 pounds from 300.

According to official data, inflation in September increased to 29 percent from 23 percent in August.

In local markets, a kilo (2.2 pounds) of beef rose in price over the past month from 32 pounds to 43, potatoes increased by 50 percent to nine pounds a kilo, and milk powder jumped to 20 pounds from 12 per kilo.

"The economic situation will force families to cut many of their expenses," said Essam Mohammed Hassan, 47, who works for a private company and has cancelled the usual family trip to visit his parents in north Sudan for Eid.

"I don't have money to cover it," he said, adding that the recent protest deaths are also casting a pall over the season.

Hamdan Moussa, 53, a car mechanic, said Eid was normally an occasion to exchange family visits with a friend in Omdurman.

But Moussa says the death of his friend's son during the protests has changed everything.

"We will still go to their home but it won't be the same," he said.

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