Sudanese soldiers intervened to protect demonstrators on Monday after security forces tried to break up a sit-in of thousands of anti-government demonstrators outside the Defense Ministry in Khartoum, witnesses and activists said.
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Prominent opposition leaders joined protesters as a group for the first time in some three months of unrest, addressing demonstrators massed outside the ministry compound for the past two days, witnesses said.
The leaders reiterated their demand for President Omar al- Bashir and his government to step down immediately.
Early Monday, witnesses and activists said riot police and secret service personnel charged the demonstrators with pickup trucks while firing tear gas in an attempt to disperse a crowd of an estimated 3,000 men and women.
But witnesses and activists said soldiers guarding the compound had come out to protect the demonstrators, firing warning shots in the air.
The security forces retreated without firing back and soldiers deployed around the area, while demonstrators chanted "The army is protecting us" and "One people, one army", witnesses said.
The Interior Minister told Parliament that six people had been killed Saturday and Sunday in disturbances in Khartoum, and one in the western region of Darfur. Activists put the death toll at more than 60 since the protests began.
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Frequent protests have been staged in Sudan since December, when the government tried to raise bread prices, building into the most sustained challenge yet to Bashir, a former army general who came to power in a military coup in 1989.
On Saturday, protesters marched toward the Defense Ministry hoping to deliver a memorandum urging the army to side with them. They reached the ministry compound, which includes Bashir's residence and the secret service headquarters, despite attempts by security forces to stop them, and set up a camp.
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.
After the army’s protection of demonstrators, protest leaders have called on the army to have direct dialogue with the protestors about forming a transitional government.
"We call on the Sudanese armed forces to talk directly with the Alliance for Freedom and Change for facilitating the peaceful process of forming a transitional government," Omar Digeir, an activist said in a statement.
"We also call on the Sudanese armed forces to withdraw their support for a regime that has lost its legitimacy," Digeir added.