The bodies of more than 110 soldiers and civilians have been counted in Juba after gunbattles. Rival factions have appealed for calm as fragile South Sudan marks its fifth anniversary as an independent state.
President Salva Kiir (pictured (R) above) and former rebel leader-turned-vice president Riek Machar were both quoted Saturday as calling for calm and saying they did not know what had triggered the latest round of deadly fighting.
Residents remained indoors in Juba on Saturday. The US Embassy said "large numbers of troops remain on the streets," adding that government leaders were "attempting to restore calm."
South Sudanese Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk described the situation Saturday morning as relatively calm.
A World Vision aid worker, Jeremiah Young, told local media that the "atmosphere was tense" and residents remained worried that events could "deteriorate."
Journalists scatter across a podium during gunfire before Friday's press conference at Juba's State House
Friday's gunfire erupted outside the presidential compound, where Kiir and Machar were holding talks, and spread through the city, including the vicinity of a UN base that shelters more than 25,000 people.
UN security spokesman Budbud Chol said 40 wounded people treated were hit by crossfire outside the base. Another UN spokesperson, Shantal Persaud, said one death had been reported inside the base. UN officials called for a return to calm in South Sudan.
Doctors at Juba's Teaching Hospital estimated that 110 bodies had been brought to its morgue. One said soldiers had not allowed medics to examine bodies.
A spokesman for Machar's SPLM-O militia, William Gatjiath Deng, said that faction had counted 35 dead and "80 people from the government forces."
Deng said the death toll could rise because "some soldiers were seriously wounded."
Local broadcaster Radio Tamazuj put the toll at 146, comprising 109 bodies at the hospital, plus 37 other persons who had also been killed.
Evacuations have been initiated by some international groups. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said its foreign and local staff and their families had been relocated temporarily to Nairobi, Kenya.
Foreign diplomats took shelter at the EU compound on Friday night.
South Sudan's latest violence began Thursday night, with the deaths of five soldiers including in rival army factions that are supposed to carry out joint patrols under a peace deal reached last year.
Local broadcaster Eye Radio said Kiir had formed a committee, including government and rebel representatives, to investigate the violence.
Africa's newest nation is trying to emerge from a two-year civil war. It started in December 2013 after Kiir sacked Machar as vice president.
Plummeting oil production and resulting lack of money prompted South Sudan to cancel celebrations of its fifth anniversary on Saturday.
The UN Security Council has "strongly condemned" the fighting. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the violence highlighted a lack of commitment to the peace process. The Security Council meets on Sunday to discuss the violence.
The EU, a major donor, and Kenya have also called for a swift return to order.
ipj/sms/jbh (AP, Reuters, dpa)