Cairo - Thousands have taken to the streets in several Sudanese towns to protest economic hardship, especially higher bread prices, with a mob in the northern city of Atbara torching the ruling party’s offices, activists said Thursday.

Photos and video clips posted by the activists on social media purported to show police and army troops standing by as the protests unfolded Wednesday.

A video clip obtained by The Associated Press late Wednesday showed the headquarters of President Omar Bashir’s National Congress Party in Atbara engulfed in flames. Vehicles parked outside were also torched.

Protests broke out in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, Barbar in the north and Nohoud in the western Kordofan region. There were no reports of clashes with security forces.

The protests coincided with the return to Sudan of opposition leader Sadeq al-Mahdi, the country’s last freely elected leader, whose government was overthrown in a 1989 military coup led by Bashir. Al-Mahdi was living in self-imposed exile outside Sudan for nearly a year. Thousands of his supporters welcomed him home on Wednesday.

Lawmakers loyal to Bashir are rallying support to amend the constitution to allow the Sudanese leader to run for re-election in 2020.

Sudan’s economy has struggled for most of the nearly three decades Bashir has been in power.

The situation has rapidly deteriorated since the secession of the south of the country in 2011, which deprived Khartoum of the oilfields there.

In the hope of securing aid and investments, Bashir has in recent years moved closer to oil-rich Gulf Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia.

He has deployed Sudanese troops in Yemen to fight alongside a Saudi-led coalition backing the government there against Iran-aligned rebels.