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Paramilitary forces in Sudan take over palace and engage in battle with army in capital


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Air strikes and artillery exchanges rocked the Sudanese capital on Saturday as the country’s main paramilitary group said it had seized the presidential palace, army headquarters and Khartoum international airport in an apparent coup attempt but which the army said it was resisting.

The Rapid Support Forces, which accused the army of attacking them first, said they had captured the airports in the northern city of Marawi and Al-Obeid in the west.

The situation on the ground was unclear. The army said it was fighting the RSF at locations the paramilitary said it had captured and denied that the RSF had captured Marawi Airport.

A major confrontation between the RSF and the army could plunge Sudan into full-scale civil conflict as it grapples with economic collapse and tribal violence.

The Rapid Support Forces accused the army of carrying out a plot by supporters of ousted President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and attempting a coup himself.

The military said that the Sudanese Air Force is carrying out operations against the RSF. Footage from broadcast stations showed a military plane flying in the sky over Khartoum, but Reuters could not verify the authenticity of this material.

Gunfire was heard in several parts of Khartoum and eyewitnesses reported gunfire in neighboring towns.

A Reuters journalist saw cannons and armored vehicles deployed in the streets of the capital and heard heavy weapons fire near the headquarters of the army and the Rapid Support Forces.

Doctors said clashes took place in residential neighborhoods and at least three civilians were killed.

An announcer who appeared on the screen for a short time said that clashes also took place at the headquarters of the Sudanese state television.

Witnesses told Reuters that a heavy exchange of gunfire took place in Marawi.

Eyewitnesses told Reuters that clashes broke out between the Rapid Support Forces and the army in the cities of El Fasher and Nyala in Darfur.

International powers – the United States, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Nations and the European Union – have all called for an end to hostilities.

The US ambassador to Sudan, John Godfrey, said it was “extremely dangerous” to escalate tensions into direct combat. He and the embassy staff were sheltering in place.

The army said the RSF attempted to attack its forces in several locations after witnesses reported heavy gunfire in multiple parts of the country, raising fears of a full-blown conflict.

The RSF, which analysts say is 100,000 strong, said its forces were attacked first by the army.

Earlier, the Rapid Support Forces, led by the former militia commander, Major General Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, said that the army surrounded one of its bases and opened fire with heavy weapons.

The Rapid Support Forces, led by Hemedti, were formed from militias accused of war crimes in the Darfur conflict. In June 2019, security forces led by the RSF were accused of raiding a pro-democracy camp in Khartoum and killing nearly 130 people, according to a count by activist doctors.

Hemedti has been the deputy head of the ruling Sovereignty Council headed by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan since 2019.

Civilian political parties, which signed a preliminary power-sharing agreement with the army and the Rapid Support Forces, called on these parties to cease hostilities. The Russian embassy also called for an end to the violence.

The hostilities came after days of tension between the army and the RSF, which could undermine long-running efforts to return Sudan to civilian rule after power struggles and military coups.

Hemedti, once one of Darfur’s most ruthless and feared militia leaders, has positioned himself at the forefront of a planned transition to democracy, upsetting fellow military rulers and triggering a troop build-up in the capital, Khartoum.

The rift between the forces came to the fore on Thursday, when the military said recent moves, especially in Marawi, by the RSF were illegal.

The RSF, which ousted Bashir along with the army in 2019, has begun redeploying its units to Khartoum and elsewhere amid talks last month about its integration into the army under a transition plan that would lead to new elections.

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