An uneasy calm has returned to central Khartoum following riots Monday after the announcement that vice president and former rebel leader John Garang died in a helicopter crash. But in the Sudanese capital, nervous northerners talked of arming themselves to defend against future violence, and rumors of retaliation spread throughout the city.
The streets of central Khartoum were quiet as the Sudanese government ordered a three-day mourning period for Vice President John Garang. Violence shook the city Monday as southern Sudanese supporters of Mr. Garang rampaged through the streets, looting stores and firebombing cars. Police and soldiers responded with force. The latest reports say yesterday's violence claimed at least 36 lives.
Most Sudanese approached in public would not talk about Monday's violence, but northerners and southerners alike privately expressed fears of retaliation from the other side. Some people admitted that they were taking self-defense measures that included arming themselves.
Ahmed, a father of four, owns a home in central Khartoum. He kept his children out of school, saying he doubted they would be adequately protected by police. Ahmed says he believes the city is not secure, and he has plans to defend himself and his family.
"I myself, now, I made a special sword, that if I put it inside anyone it will go in," he said. "This is very dangerous. They will break the door and they will go to my wife. If a gun is 40,000 [Sudanese] pounds I am ready to purchase it now to secure my children. My little children, I will teach them before the end of the day how to protect themselves with a knife. There is no other alternative."
Two of Ahmed's northern neighbors said in Arabic, that they had already purchased guns to protect their property and to defend themselves.
Almost no one here believes that John Garang's death was the only reason for yesterday's violence. Tariq Osman, a local hotel owner, says there were many reasons for the rioting that had built up over a long period of time.
"This was just pent up frustration," he said. "From financial, economic. From lack of work. They did not have anything. They did not have a purpose. There was nothing to protest."
But like many, Osman does have plans to protect himself and said talk of retaliation must be taken seriously.
"There is a backlash. No doubt," he said. "I was one of the people who would not buy a gun. While all my friends would have guns right now. I am buying a gun. Everyone is buying a gun. We have women in the house."
Southerners too feel the threat of violence. A southern man with a broken wrist told VOA that so-called "red men" entered his home and attacked him though he had done nothing. "Red man" is a Sudanese slang term for a very light-skinned northerner.
Early Tuesday, young men and boys stood by the wreckage of a half dozen firebombed cars, gleefully slamming doors on burned-out vehicles.
Reports from outlying areas say there was additional unrest on the outskirts of Khartoum early in the day, but the extent of the violence is not known. A dusk to dawn curfew remains in effect.
Salva Kiir Mayardit, Mr. Garang's successor as leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, called for calm and vowed support for the Sudan peace process. The United States has sent two senior envoys to Sudan to help maintain the peace process in which Mr. Garang had been such a key part.
Funeral services for Vice President Garang will be held August 6 in Juba, the planned capital of an autonomous government in southern Sudan.