The United States on Tuesday condemned a crackdown on anti-government protests in Sudan that have spread throughout the capital, Khartoum, as Sudanese authorities deported a correspondent for an international news wire.
The unrest that began as isolated student protests over planned austerity measures in the Arab-African nation expanded over the past several days into larger and more volatile demonstrations.
Riot police were ordered in to immediately stop the street uprising, firing tear gas and using batons on rock-throwing demonstrators.
There have also been reports that protesters have been arrested, detained and beaten, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
“The heavy-handed approach adopted by Sudanese security forces is disproportionate and deeply concerning,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, according to Reuters.
Sudanese authorities have downplayed the protests as the work of agitators.
Activists have sought to use public frustration to build a movement to topple the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Soaring inflation has gripped the country since South Sudan seceded a year ago -- taking with it about three quarters of the country’s oil production.
Egyptian journalist deported
Meanwhile, a correspondent for international news wire Bloomberg was deported by Sudanese authorities on Tuesday, after being detained while trying to cover the country’s widening protest movement.
“They ordered me to leave,” a weeping Salma al-Wardany, an Egyptian, told AFP by telephone as she awaited a flight from the Khartoum airport.
Her phone was later switched off and a friend told AFP she had left.
Earlier on Tuesday, Britain expressed concern at increasing restrictions on freedom of expression in Sudan following the recent demonstrations.
Wardany’s expulsion order came after she said she was held by Sudanese state security agents for five hours on Thursday at the University of Khartoum.
For almost two weeks, demonstrators in groups of 100 or 200 have burned tires and blocked roads in a growing call for regime change which has been inevitably met by police tear gas.
Wardany told AFP she was informed of the immediate expulsion order when she tried to renew her Sudanese residency permit earlier on Tuesday.
Her sister Lina wrote on Twitter that she was escorted by police to Khartoum airport to board a plane back to her country.
After her release without charges last week, Wardany said security agents barred her from working as a journalist unless the country’s press council decided otherwise.
In the airport parking lot, weeping friends said they had spoken with her by telephone as she waited inside the terminal.
“She packed in a rush,” said Maha al-Sanosi, who was detained along with Wardany last week.
Wardany was with an Egyptian embassy official and several state security agents in the terminal, Sanosi said, praising the reporter’s work.
“I’ve never seen someone as dedicated as she is,” Sanosi said.
“She gave us a voice,” another friend said.
The protests began as a student demonstration outside the University of Khartoum on June 16 against a sharp rise in food and fuel prices.
But they quickly spread to include a cross-section of the population in numerous locations throughout the capital, and several other parts of Sudan.
Britain’s minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham, called for “the immediate release of those detained while engaged in peaceful protest, and for the security forces to act with restraint and avoid the use of force in responding to peaceful demonstrations.”
In his statement, he also expressed concern “at growing levels of censorship and restrictions on the media and on the political opposition.”
On the 11th day of demonstrations, about 150 students in the eastern town of Kassala took to the streets on Tuesday to shout against high prices, witnesses in the poverty-stricken region told AFP.
Police fired tear gas but the students regrouped near a hospital only to be met with more gas, they said.
Protests also spread to Atbara town, north of Khartoum, where a number of people were arrested when more than 100 demonstrated against inflation and denounced the regime, witnesses there said.
An AFP correspondent was detained at the University of Khartoum two days before Wardany and held for 14 hours in custody without charge before being released.
Protests by tens of thousands in 1964 and 1985 helped bring about the downfall of the Sudanese regimes then in office.
President Bashir, an army officer who seized power in June 1989, called the latest protests small-scale and not comparable to the “Arab Spring” uprisings against regional strongmen over the past year.
But a demonstrator told AFP the current unrest was unprecedented.
“Right now, this is first time since 1989 we have these protests in most cities,” he said, asking not to be identified.
Press freedom advocates have also described an intensifying clampdown on critical voices in recent weeks, including the seizure of newspapers press runs.
In January, French freelance reporter Mathieu Galtier said he was expelled along with his colleague Maryline Dumas. Galtier had written that eastern Sudan was “a volcano waiting to erupt.”