Curfew imposed in South Sudan after apparent coup attempt

CAIRO -- South Sudan President Salva Kiir announced an overnight curfew for civilians Monday after what he characterized as a failed coup attempt.

Barrages of gunfire broke out at two presidential guard barracks in the capital, Juba, in the early hours of the morning amid suspicions that a coup attempt was triggered by a faction of soldiers loyal to Kiir's former deputy, Riek Machar. Witnesses confirmed that heavy machine guns and mortars were used.

Several people were reported wounded, and hundreds of others sought refuge at United Nations facilities in Juba. The city's airport was closed, and the country's borders with Uganda and Kenya have reportedly been shut.

The state television channel briefly went off the air before it resumed with an address by Kiir to the South Sudanese people.

"This was an attempted coup," Kiir, clad in a military uniform rather than his usual civilian dress, told citizens in the address. He accused Machar of plotting the mutiny.

"Your government is in full control of the situation in Juba. The attackers fled, and your forces are pursuing them. I promise you justice will prevail," Kiir said.

Officials said that some arrests had been made, but Machar's spokesman said he was safe, and denied reports that Machar was among the detainees.

Tensions have been high in the world's youngest country since Kiir, who belongs to the dominant Dinka tribe, dismissed Machar in July. Machar belongs to the Nuer tribe, which is the second-largest among South Sudan's 500 tribes. Nuer members have often complained of the Dinkas' monopoly on high-ranking political posts.

Since his dismissal, Machar has been leading a faction within Kiir's ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, against the current president. Machar has also announced that he will run for the presidency in the 2015 elections.

In a statement, U.N. Special Representative Hilde Johnson expressed deep concerns over the fighting, adding that she is in touch with high South Sudanese figures in order to try to bring an end to the conflict.

"I urge all parties in the conflict to cease hostilities immediately and exercise restraint," Johnson's statement read.

South Sudan has struggled with ethnic and tribal tensions since its independence from Sudan in 2011. Persistent attempts by the South Sudanese Coptic Church have failed to unite the country's population, much of which practices indigenous religions.

Hassan is a special correspondent in Cairo.

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