Sudan protests 'ridiculous': government

KHARTOUM, Ian Timberlake- Protests which began more than a month ago in Sudan are ridiculously small, linked to opposition political parties and amount to nothing, a senior ruling party official said on Monday.
In an interview with AFP, Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid of the National Congress Party denied demonstrations have been peaceful and he defended freedom of expression in the country despite concerns raised by Western governments and rights groups over a clampdown on demonstrators and journalists.

"I don't think that these protests have a weight in public opinion. A few people here and there... and coming in one mosque... What is this? Ridiculous!" Ebaid said, laughing.
"We cannot compare what happened here, from (a) few people, like what happened in Egypt or Tunisia or Libya," said Ebaid, referring to the Arab Spring revolts that began in December 2010 against authoritarian rulers in North Africa and the Middle East.
Protests in Sudan started on June 16 when University of Khartoum students voiced their opposition to high food prices.
After President Omar al-Bashir announced austerity measures, including tax hikes and an end to cheap fuel, scattered protests spread to include a cross-section of people, often in groups of 100 or 200, around the capital and in other parts of Sudan.
Public protests have since focused on Fridays at a mosque linked to the opposition Umma party in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman.
More than 30 people were arrested there on July 13 when police fired tear gas and beat people, a senior opposition figure said.
"Actually this is propaganda, political propaganda more than actual protests," said Ebaid, who is also an adviser to the minister of information.
"If we look at the numbers of people who led these protests and if we look to the leaders, we can come to the conclusion that this is nothing," he said, laughing again.
The protesters cannot even be called "a minority", he added.
Although lasting for an unprecedented month, the demonstrations have not attracted the mass following, in which students played a key role, that toppled military regimes in 1964 and 1985.
Sudanese proudly point to this history which occurred long before the Arab Spring revolts that led to the election of an Islamist president in Egypt and an Islamist-dominated government in Tunisia.
Sudanese protesters are seeking the ouster of the Islamist Bashir, who seized power 23 years ago.
They have repeated a call made by crowds at Arab Spring protests around the region: "The people want the fall of the regime."
Security forces have responded with increasingly aggressive tactics, using gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition mostly fired into the air, since June 22 when small demonstrations began after Friday prayers at the Umma-linked mosque, according to Mariam al-Mahdi of Umma's politbureau.
Some protesters around Khartoum have burned tyres, blocked roads with rocks and pelted the police with stones.
"They burned a lot of properties of the people," Ebaid said, denying that many of the protests have been peaceful.
"In Europe if somebody is trying under the umbrella of political opinion to do harm for the people, this will be stopped, will not be allowed. Everywhere!"
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement last week that "Sudanese security forces have repeatedly used excessive force to disperse the demonstrations and arrested scores of peaceful protesters."
Like their counterparts in Syria and elsewhere, Sudanese activists are uploading videos of their protests and using Twitter and other Internet tools to spread their news.
The government has detained local and foreign journalists while Sudanese reporters have complained of censorship and other restrictions.
"It is very clear that nobody will be detained or obstructed to say his opinion. And everybody can write what he wants to write," Ebaid said.
On June 29 security agents -- one wielding a pistol -- raided the AFP bureau in Khartoum and detained for almost 24 hours a freelance photographer who had taken pictures of an anti-regime protest.
"Sometimes a picture is deceiving," Ebaid said.

Tuesday, July 17th 2012
Ian Timberlake

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