Sudanese take to the streets as gas prices double overnight

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, face charges in the International Criminal Court. He was planning to go to the UN General Assembly this week, but he decided to cancel. That's because of an eruption of demonstrations at home. On Monday, Bashir cut fuel subsidies that had long kept oil prices low, and since then more than two dozen people have died in protests across the country. Sudanese-American journalist Isma'il Kushkush has been covering the story from Sudan's capital city, Khartoum.

Isma'il Kushkush: These [xx]have been quite violent and almost immediate. Protesters immediately took the streets chanting no, no, to high prices, and the people want to remove the regime. High school students, college students, average people, thousands of people protesting in different parts of the capital region, but also in other cities in Sudan, like Wad Madani in central Sudan, Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast, Atbara, Sennar, Manaqil, in central Sudan.

Werman: So for average Sudanese to go out in the streets protesting the price of fuel going up, that's got to get really at the heart of what their daily lives are all about. Give us the before and after shot. How much did a liter of gas cost before these subsidies went away and now after the subsidy cut?

Kushkush: A gallon of gasoline was about 12 Sudanese pounds before Monday, and now it's 21 Sudanese pounds per gallon.

Werman: That's about, it was about a dollar and a half per gallon, and it's tripled in other words, about four and a half dollars now.

Kushkush: Exactly, exactly. And the subsidies were lifted partially also last year, so in about a year's time it went from 8 to 21 per gallon.

Werman: So in a poor country like Sudan, how does this affect the average person, say just getting to work, or going to school, or food prices?

Kushkush: Prices of bus fares have gone up at least by 25 to 30 percent, but also the prices of basic commodities. I spoke to a grocer earlier today and he says just the price of transporting commodities from storages to his store went from 20 Sudanese pounds to 40 Sudanese pounds, which means that the price of these commodities will probably double, if not triple.

Werman: I hear that bus drivers don't even want to take their buses out because they are holding this very now valuable commodity.

Kushkush: Most of the buses in Khartoum are privately owned, so the bus driver is the one who has to pay for the gas, and it is difficult, it is pricy now to pay for gasoline. And also, many of the bus drivers are worried about some of the violence that has accompanied these protests. Eight gas stations were burned down. Many of the bus drivers are just worried about their buses and this is causing a problem with public transportation. You see scores of people waiting for buses, trying to get back home. And you have some bus drivers charging average persons double, triple the price of a bus fare to take them where they want to go.

Werman: Isma'il, some people thought that Sudan might get swept up in the popular excitement of the Arab awakening in 2011. Do you think we're seeing kind of a delayed Arab Spring dynamic going on here in Sudan?

Kushkush: In 2011, when protesters brought down the government in Egypt there were protests here in Sudan, but they only really lasted for about a week, and they were not really able to budge. In the summer of 2012 there was a series of protests for at least two, two and a half months, but again, those protests were not able to bring the Arab Spring, so to speak, to Sudan. Some believe that this actually might be the beginnings of a popular uprising because what's different about these protests is that it's bringing the average Sudanese Joe Smith, the average Mohammed Ahmed so to speak. Previous protests were basically led by activists and the Internet but now this is the average person joining in these protests.

Werman: Journalist Isma'il Kushkush speaking with us from Khartoum, The Sudanese capital. Thank you very much. Great to speak with you.

Kushkush: Thank you.