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South Sudan leader urges 'yes' on independence vote

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-11-02

The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, backed independence for the semi-autonomous region Saturday in its upcoming referendum, warning that unity would make southerners "second class" citizens.

AFP - Southern Sudanese president Salva Kiir on Satuday backed independence for the semi-autonomous region in its upcoming referendum, warning that unity would make southerners "second class" citizens.

The south will vote in a referendum slated for January 2011 as part of the 2005 peace deal that ended Sudan's 22-year civil war -- the African continent's longest armed conflict.

"You want to vote for unity so that you will become a second class in your own country, that is your choice," said Kiir, speaking at Saint Teresa’s Catholic Cathedral in the southern capital Juba at the end of a service.

"If you would want to vote for independence so that you are a free person in your independent state, that will be your own choice," said Kiir, a former guerrilla fighter who battled the government in Khartoum for over two decades.

"We will respect the choice of the people," he added.

Tensions have been running high between north and south, still divided by the religious, ethnic and ideological differences over which the civil war was fought.

Meanwhile US special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration arrived in Juba on Saturday and met with Kiir as part of ongoing talks between the United States, north and south Sudan to hammer out key issues ahead of elections due in April and the 2011 referendum.

Celebrations were held in Juba on Saturday to mark the launch of voter registration for the elections.

Date created : 2009-10-31