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Festivities in south mark one-month countdown to referendum

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-12-10

Southern Sudanese took to the streets of the regional capital of Juba on Tuesday to mark the final month before a long-awaited January 9 referendum on independence.

The usually sleepy city of Juba, the capital of South Sudan, came to life on Thursday as people celebrated their anticipated independence from the north. Dancing crowds waving flags and playing instruments took to Juba’s streets to mark the one-month countdown to a landmark referendum that could divide Africa’s largest country in two.

“I want all the children, the generation to come, to have their right in the world as human beings,” said a middle-aged man who watched the revelers pass.

A woman holds up a poster with the symbols for the two choices on the south Sudanese referendum ballot: an open hand for separation (left), two hands together for unity (right). Illiteracy is widespread in Sudan's south.

The referendum is the key feature of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war between the Muslim north and the mostly Christian and animist south. An estimated two million people died as a result of the civil war and the famine it created.

More than 2,000 demonstrators chanted slogans in favor of separation from the north and waved their open hands in the air. An open hand is the symbol for independence on the referendum ballot paper prepared for the southerners, among whom illiteracy is widespread.

Southerners have been holding marches every month since July to mark the countdown to the referendum and show their determination that the vote should take place on January 9, as stipulated by the peace deal.

“All of us, we will get more jobs and we will live in a peaceful country,” a young female civil servant said.

Religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, joined the demonstration. “We are here with our brothers, Christians, Muslims. The question of secession is not Christian or Muslim,” said Juma Said Ali, the deputy chairman of the South Sudan religious leaders council. “We are here together in South Sudan. [Religion] is not the problem.”

Leaders of the south have said an independent South Sudan would uphold separation of church and state and protect the rights of Muslims and northerners living in the south.

Challenges to referendum

Organizing the Jan. 9 vote will be a major logistical challenge in a region larger than France that has virtually no paved roads.

Western observers have criticized the government of Khartoum in the north for trying to delay the referendum. There are a number of issues to be resolved if the south votes to break away, including the final demarcation of the border between north and south, the sharing of oil revenues, and the status of southerners in the north and northerners in the south.

Those eligible to vote in the referendum include permanent residents of South Sudan since 1956, when the country gained independence from Britain, and those who can trace their ancestry to an established South Sudanese ethnic group.

In addition, South Sudanese living abroad will be able to vote in eight countries that the independent Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) has said have the largest communities of expatriate southerners.

Date created : 2010-12-09


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