Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that private Russian companies were training the army in Sudan, confirming for the first time their presence in a country shaken by protests against its president, a close Russian ally.

Demonstrators have been on the streets near-daily since Dec. 19, initially to protest against an economic crisis then to call for an end to the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir.

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“According to our information, representatives of Russian private security companies, who have nothing to do with Russian state bodies, really do operate in Sudan,” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told reporters.