WASHINGTON - The United States on Tuesday condemned a crackdown on anti-government protests in Sudan that have spread throughout the capital, Khartoum.

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 US 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.

Sudanese authorities have downplayed the protests as the work of agitators.

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