The International Criminal court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Wednesday for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The decision against Bashir, the most senior figure pursued by the Hague-based court since it was set up in 2002, could spark more turmoil in Sudan and the surrounding region.

The court said it did not find sufficient grounds to include the count of genocide in Bashir's arrest warrant, but indicted Bashir on seven counts for war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, forcible displacement and other crimes.

Sudan dismissed the ICC decision, with a presidential adviser telling state television that it was part of a "neo-colonialism" plan.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in central Khartoum to protest against the arrest warrant.

Tension also mounted in Darfur, where UN officials said hundreds of Sudanese government troops paraded through the regional capital El Fasher in a show of strength.

"It looked like a reminder to the population that they are in control ... The message was 'We are here. Mind your behaviour,'" said one official who asked not to be named.

The official said soldiers drove through the settlement in armored personnel carriers and "technical" pick-ups with machine guns mounted on the back. Jet fighters also flew low over the town during the morning, the official added.

The court's move could hurt prospects for peace in Sudan and pit Western powers against backers of the Khartoum government.

Bashir has dismissed the allegations made by the ICC, the world's first permanent court for prosecuting war crimes, as part of a Western conspiracy.

"They can eat it [the warrant]," he told a crowd of cheering supporters in northern Sudan on Tuesday.

China, the African Union and the Arab League suggest an indictment could destabilise the region, worsen the Darfur conflict and threaten a troubled peace deal between north Sudan and the semi-autonomous south - potentially rich in oil.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo accuses Bashir of orchestrating a campaign of genocide in Sudan's western region of Darfur, starting in 2003.

U.N. officials say as many as 300,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict since 2003, while Khartoum says 10,000 have died.

A further 2.7 million people are estimated to have been uprooted by the conflict, which began when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government.

Violence has spiked in Darfur in the months leading up to the ICC decision. Sudanese government officials have said they expect Darfur rebels to step up attacks after the court's announcement.