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Young people call for change in Sudan

Following a peaceful vote, results from South Sudan’s referendum have now been declared showing an overwhelming 99.57 per cent majority in favour of secession from the North.

Cheers greeted the announcement and President Salva Kiir congratulated the people “a million times” and for now being “free in their own country”. Following the result and with pro-democracy protests taking place across other Arab countries, young people have begun taking to the streets of North Sudan. On Monday, students from Khartoum University gathered in the capital before their demonstration was broken up by security forces. It has now been confirmed one student died from his injuries. The university has also been closed.

As well as the group protesting in Khartoum, young people also gathered in the city of el-Obeid in the west of the country, chanting “we are ready to die for Sudan”. On the social networking site Facebook, the group ‘Youth for Change’, with over 16,000 members, has called for a change of government in North Sudan, inspired particularly by what is happening in neighbouring Egypt. The two countries share close ties, since both were once united under British colonial rule. Protests are rarely given permission in Sudan, so the scene of the young people crowding in the streets is unprecedented.

Sudan’s economy remains in deep crisis and a devaluation of the Sudanese pound has caused soaring inflation. Earlier this month, a reduction in subsidies on petrol and other key commodities like sugar caused an outcry throughout the north. Officials from the North Sudanese government today called on the United States to lift sanctions, now the referendum in the South has concluded peacefully. The US has lifted certain export controls, such as on agricultural machinery for the food sector. But any widespread lifting of sanctions may not happen while there is renewed fighting in Dafur. The Sudanese Foreign Minister, Ali Karti, said that “Darfur should not be attached on this [issue].”

The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have died in the Dafur region since 2003, when mainly non-Arab rebels sparked a counterinsurgency by Sudan’s army and the Arab ‘Janjaweed’ militia. International concern about the region is currently growing because peacekeepers are being denied access to affected areas. Aid workers are also being given limited scope to work in the camps where millions of Darfuris remain displaced. Recently the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, called for the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force to be more active and “when necessary, aggressive in fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians”. Until the situation in Darfur improves, experts say it is unlikely sanctions to North Sudan will be lifted.

By Laurinda Luffman for SOS Children