Riots follow death of Sudan rebel leader


John Garang, who led Sudan's southern rebels for two decades before making peace and joining the government he fought, has died in a helicopter crash, sparking riots and fears for the country's hard-won stability.

At least 24 people were killed in Khartoum, a policeman said, after rioters torched vehicles and looted shops.

Witnesses said southerners, who have long said the northern government discriminated against them, attacked Arabs in the street. "People have been running all over the streets. The policemen are taking people from the streets. There is fire and smoke," a Reuters TV witness said.

Garang, a key figure in a January peace deal hailed as a rare success story for Africa, became the country's first vice president on July 9th. He died over the weekend after the Ugandan presidential helicopter he was travelling in went down in bad weather.

Six of Garang's companions and a crew of seven also died in the crash near the Sudan-Uganda border, Khartoum said today, though a member of the southern Sudan leadership council said 17 bodies were recovered.

Members of Garang's southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the government in Khartoum - bitter enemies during the 21-year conflict - both promised to maintain the peace agreement Garang helped bring about.

Just weeks before, he had come north to take his place in government amid a tumultuous popular welcome in Khartoum. But as news of his death was confirmed this morning, thousands of his southern Sudanese supporters took to the streets of Khartoum in a different mood, wielding knives and bars, looting shops, starting fires and clashing with police.

A Reuters witness saw 12 bodies in a morgue in the capital and a police official said all the dead, which included police, were killed in the rioting.