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Gunfire and explosions erupt across Sudan's capital as military rivals clash

Smoke is seen rising from a neighborhood in Khartoum, Sudan, on Saturday. Fierce clashes between Sudan's military and the country's powerful paramilitary erupted in the capital and elsewhere in the African nation after weeks of escalating tensions between the two forces.
Marwan Ali
/
AP
Smoke is seen rising from a neighborhood in Khartoum, Sudan, on Saturday. Fierce clashes between Sudan's military and the country's powerful paramilitary erupted in the capital and elsewhere in the African nation after weeks of escalating tensions between the two forces.

Updated April 15, 2023 at 6:02 PM ET

LAGOS, Nigeria — Fighting erupted Saturday morning in Sudan's capital Khartoum between two factions of Sudan's armed forces, with reports of gunfire and explosions across the city. After weeks of mounting tensions, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) say they have taken control of the presidential palace, the state TV station, the residence of the army chief and Khartoum International Airport, plunging the country into further turmoil.

Both the RSF and Sudan's military have accused each other of instigating the ongoing fighting, and air force jets have been seen attacking targets over Khartoum. The sudden conflict follows a long dispute over plans to integrate both forces as part of a fragile transition to democracy, that now appears in further jeopardy.

Videos posted on social media appeared to show the unfolding conflict, capturing air force jets patrolling the skies, soldiers firing in streets of the capital, armored vehicles speeding through residential streets and civilians running and taking shelter.

The Sudanese Doctors Union told Reuters that at least 25 people had been killed and 183 others injured. But with most civilians sheltering in place and medics unable to move freely around the city, the picture was far from clear. Most of the casualties have been reported in the capital with some in the Darfur region, including, according to the United Nations, three Sudanese employees of the World Food Programme.

Smoke is seen rising in Khartoum, Sudan, on Saturday.
Marwan Ali / AP
/
AP
Smoke is seen rising in Khartoum, Sudan, on Saturday.

U.S. Ambassador John Godfrey tweeted that he woke to disturbing sounds of gunfire and was now sheltering along with U.S. Embassy staff in Khartoum.

"Escalation of tensions within the military component to direct fighting is extremely dangerous. I urgently call on senior military leaders to stop the fighting," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for calm on both sides and said he was "deeply concerned" about the reports of violence.

Tensions between the Sudanese army and a paramilitary force have been rising for months

The fighting follows months of rising tension between Sudan's army, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the RSF, a powerful paramilitary group led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, widely known as Hemedti.

As tensions have risen, both forces increasingly mobilized in Khartoum, raising fears of a full-blown conflict. Fears escalated further on Thursday, when the army said the RSF's recent movements were illegal.

The fighting is the latest turbulent episode in Sudan's recent history. Both the military and the RSF helped depose former long-time leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019, following a huge civilian uprising. Then, after a brief return to civilian rule, both forces took power again in a coup in 2021, with the RSF accused of killing hundreds of protesters and widescale human rights abuses.

In December, the army agreed to hand power back to a civilian-led government this month, but the plan has been held back by tensions between the army and RSF over who should lead and become de facto head of state prior to elections.

An army official told Al Jazeera that the RSF had attacked its forces and were trying to seize control of the military headquarters. The RSF said in a statement that the army had started the conflict, attacking its base in the south of Khartoum.

As night fell in Khartoum, the fighting continued. There were power outages in many parts of the city as a number of the electricity pylons were damaged in the fighting. Most people had been trapped inside since the violence began earlier in the day, with no clear idea about when it would safe enough to emerge from hiding and no clear idea about who is in control of Sudan and how this ends.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.