Vice President John Garang and the 13 others aboard the helicopter died when it crashed in the mountains of south Sudan in bad weather Saturday.
Garang, who was until recently a southern rebel leader, was a key figure in negotiating the fledgling peace deal that ended the civil war between the Arab Muslim government and ethnic Christians in the south.
Clashes in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, erupted amid speculation that foul play was involved in the crash. Both government and former rebel officials dismissed rumors of a plot to assassinate the vice president, saying the crash was an accident.
News services reported as many as 24 people were killed in riots both in the capital and throughout the south. In Khartoum, at least 10 private and government cars were set on fire. No official injury count was confirmed.
Anti-riot police were deployed to several areas throughout Khartoum and the city’s governor set a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
Sudanese leaders urged calm and said Garang’s death would not upset the country’s peace process.
“I call upon all members of the [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] and the entire Sudanese nation to remain calm and vigilant,” said Garang’s longtime deputy, Salva Kiir, told the Associated Press.
According to Garang spokesman Yasser Arman, Kiir was immediately appointed to succeed Garang as head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and as president of south Sudan, the AP reported.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Garang was “larger than life, rather charismatic and believed in his mission with all his being.”
“He lived and fought for his dream,” Annan said. “And just as he was on the verge of it, he lost his life.”
Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement signed a landmark peace deal in January that ended 22 years of civil war with Sudan’s central government during which some two million people were killed.