Bashir, a former paratrooper, who is being sought by international prosecutors for alleged war crimes in the country’s western Darfur region, has refused to step down and said his opponents need to seek power through the ballot box.

National security and intelligence personnel fired in the air as they tried twice on Tuesday morning to disperse protesters camping outside the defence ministry in central Khartoum, witnesses said.

The forces, from Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service, tried to break into the area using pickup trucks, witnesses said. In an earlier attempt on Tuesday, navy troops intervened to protect demonstrators, a day after soldiers had shielded the protesters from the first effort to clear the sit-in.

An estimated 3,000 protesters remained at the site on Tuesday morning, eyewitnesses said.

Reuters earlier witnessed dozens of young men blocking Nile Street, a main artery in the capital where ministries are located. The protesters used scrap metal barriers to block traffic on the street, which is located around one kilometre away from the presidential palace.

Army soldiers on armoured vehicles were guarding the presidential palace but not moving against demonstrators, a Reuters witness said.

Men calling themselves “mabaheth al-thawra” – Arabic for ”the inspectors of the revolution” – were checking ID cards before allowing pedestrians to pass through.

Since Dec. 19, Sudan has been rocked by persistent protests sparked by the government’s attempt to raise the price of bread, and by fuel and cash shortages. The demonstrations have developed into the most sustained challenge to President Omar al-Bashir’s rule since he took power three decades ago.

Bashir, a former paratrooper, who is being sought by international prosecutors for alleged war crimes in the country’s western Darfur region, has refused to step down and said his opponents need to seek power through the ballot box.

The protests escalated on Saturday, when activists, trying to push the country’s armed forces to side with them, marched towards a compound, which houses the defence ministry, Bashir’s residence and the country’s security headquarters. Protesters have been camping at the compound since then.

On Monday, riot police and intelligence service personnel charged the demonstrators with pickup trucks while firing tear gas, but witnesses and activists said soldiers moved to protect the protesters.

Activists said they chose Saturday for their march to coincide with the April 6 anniversary of a 1985 military coup that forced long-time autocrat Jaafar Nimeiri to step down after protests.

The interior ministry said six civilians were killed during Saturday and Sunday’s unrest in the capital, and one in the western region of Darfur.

It said 15 civilians and 42 security forces personnel were injured in the protests and that nearly 2,500 protesters were arrested in Khartoum.

Authorities say 39 people, including three security forces personnel, have died since protests began on Dec. 19. Activists put the death toll at more than 60.

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