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Prices soar but Sudan's poor yet to join protests

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Sudan's millions of poor have yet to surge into the streets to back scattered Arab Spring-style protests as government austerity measures try to stem soaring prices and a falling currency.

Inflation reached 37 percent year-on-year in June and jumped almost 10 points in May but the demonstrations, sparked by high food prices, have been largely youth driven.

“So far the movement is concentrated with students and protest activists,” one veteran activist said, adding it could take time for the “oppressed” poor to rise up.

Sudanese history shows that “usually the poor join late,” following the professional classes, said University of Khartoum economist Mohammed Eljack Ahmed.

But more than a month after protests began at the University of Khartoum there has been no mass support from professionals, although lawyers have demonstrated.

“So far they are so limited,” Ahmed said of the protests.

Demonstrations spread to include a cross-section of people, but often only in groups of 100 or 200. Protests have lately focused on Fridays at a mosque linked to the opposition Umma Party in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman.

Rallies have not attracted the tens of thousands of students, engineers, lawyers and trade unionists who toppled Sudanese military regimes in 1964 and 1985.

Sudan, with more than 30 million people, has a poverty rate of 46.5 percent, the United Nations says.

In its latest report on Sudan the World Bank described as “alarming” the 28.6 percent annual inflation rate reached in April, with prices having gone even higher since.

The bank said food prices were mainly behind the inflation, which was “partly due to the rising import cost of basic goods as a result of weakening local currency value.”

Sudan's pound has tumbled on the black market from about four pounds per one dollar in September to around six now. Some say it could drop to 10 or more if inflation is not contained.

The pound has been under pressure since South Sudan separated in July 2011, taking with it about 75 percent of Sudanese oil production that is worth billions of dollars and was the country's largest source of hard currency.

Loss of oil revenue has led to “serious external and internal deficits, inflation and economic hardship,” the World Bank said.

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