Sudanese police used batons to disperse farmers demonstrating against what they said was an insufficient government offer to buy their land in the country’s agricultural heartland, said protesters.
Sudan is facing rising prices and the secession of its oil-producing south, scheduled for July 9. The country has seen small protests inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, but they have been quickly dispersed by security forces.
About 400 demonstrators gathered in front of the headquarters of the Gezira project, a state-run irrigated farming scheme south of Khartoum, chanting, “Our land, our rights, freedom, freedom,” one protester said, Reuters reports.
The demonstrators tried to march toward the central market of Wad Medani in the Gezira state, where security forces confronted them with batons and arrested over a dozen, said the protester, who asked not to be named.
“The police and security encircled the demonstrators and used batons and sticks to break them up,” he added.
A second protester, who gave his name as Bakheet, also put the number of demonstrators around 400 and said some local students joined farmers.
A spokesman for the Sudanese police denied security forces clashed with Gezira land owners, but said police stopped about 150 people who had tried to enter and demonstrate in the market.
“They were motivated by political bodies trying to use the issue to create chaos and confusion in the market,” spokesman Ahmed al-Tuhami said.
The Gezira project, which employs 130,000 farmers, traces its origins to British colonial times. It initially developed land for cotton through a system of canals.
Khartoum last year said it would offer parts of the scheme to private firms to boost efficiency as it tries to prioritise agriculture after the south secedes this year.