Tens of thousands of people are flooding the streets of Khartoum, Sudan's capital, enraged by the death of John Garang, who led the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army rebels for more than two decades. Mr. Garang was sworn in as Sudan's first vice president less than a month ago.
The situation in Khartoum is getting more volatile as tens of thousands of protesters in Khartoum have flooded the streets and started burning cars, smashing shop windows, and engaging Sudanese police in running gun battles, says Colonel Bjarne Giske, head of the Joint Monitoring Commission, a U.S.-backed agency overseeing a cease-fire in central Sudan.
"The police have reinforced now and starting to some extent getting the situation under control but still massive riots, there is a lot of destruction of property specifically vehicles are targeted," ," said Colonel Giske, speaking by telephone from the Sudanese capital. "It has now gone over to also burning vehicles instead of only smashing windows and there are big problems currently in the southern dominated areas and we have received reports that also the army now is deploying to get the situation under control."
Rioting reportedly has spread to other areas of the country, including Juba, one of the largest cities in southern Sudan. Kenya's Nation TV reported that Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army soldiers have started ransacking houses in Juba. They also are said to have demanded the immediate expulsion of Sudanese army troops in Juba, estimated to be in the tens of thousands.
News of Garang's death and its violent aftermath is sending shockwaves through this region of Africa, dimming hopes for peace in a country that appeared to be emerging from more than two decades of civil war.
Salva Kiir Mayardit, deputy SPLA chairman, was quick to try to reassure those in Khartoum that Mr. Garang's death would not derail the peace deal reached between him and Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir.
"Southern Sudan and, indeed, the whole Sudan has lost its beloved son, Dr. John Garang de Mabior," he said. "The first vice president of the Republic of Sudan and the president of South Sudan was on an official visit to Uganda during the period of 29 - 30 July, 2005, when the helicopter he was traveling in crashed near South of New Kush on his return last Saturday. I take this opportunity to assure the southern Sudanese, in particular, the Sudanese people, in general, that we in the SPLM / A leadership will continue the vision and the objectives of the Movement that Dr. John Garang de Mabior has articulated and hoped to implement."
Rumors of Mr. Garang's death began circulating late Saturday. He had not been heard from since he left an Ugandan airport in a helicopter earlier in the day.
He was headed to southern Sudan. Ugandan officials confirmed Sunday the helicopter was missing. On Monday, U.N. officials confirmed that Mr.Garang, who was 60, died in the helicopter crash.
Ugandan and Sudanese authorities say Mr. Garang's helicopter tried to go around an area of bad weather before the crash.