KHARTOUM Hundreds of Darfuris held protests in three cities in Sudan's north Wednesday, the latest in small anti-government demonstrations in the African country.
Youth protesters hoping to emulate popular uprisings in neighboring Egypt and Libya have met with little success as police use violence to disperse any gatherings and few Sudanese have been willing to join them in the streets fearing bloodshed.
Darfur's rebellion began in 2003 with rebels demanding more of a share of wealth and power. Khartoum's counter-insurgency campaign sparked a humanitarian crisis which the United Nations says claimed 300,000 lives.
The International Criminal Court accuses President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of genocide and war crimes in Darfur. Bashir rejects the charges.
Witnesses reported small protests in Dillinj in South Kordofan state, Khartoum and Zalengei town in Darfur before police broke them up.
Chants like "down with Bashir," could be heard down the phone lines of people at the demonstrations.
"These protests are against the restrictions on freedom imposed by this government which continues to kill innocent people," Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Army spokesman Nimr Mohamed Abdelrahman told Reuters.
Sudanese police were not immediately available to comment but any protest without permission is illegal in Sudan and authorities rarely grant permits.
Khartoum blames the Western media for exaggerating Darfur's conflict and does not recognize the ICC's authority. Peace talks have faltered because of continued clashes and rebel divisions.
One witness said about 100 students chanting pro-ICC slogans emerged from Neelain university in Khartoum Wednesday before they were beaten or arrested by police.
In Dillinj about 150 students took to the streets before police used tear gas to disperse them.
Analysts say a popular uprising is unlikely to happen as quickly in Sudan as in nearby Arab nations. A largely rural, war-weary and divided population has not found the prospect of an uprising attractive despite the bite of soaring double-digit inflation of food prices.
But calls for reform within Bashir's own ruling party could take hold if rampant corruption and economic crisis continues.
(Reporting by Opheera McDoom)