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Bashir vows to strengthen sharia law if south secedes

Sudan's President Omar al Bashir said on Sunday that Muslim northern Sudan will strengthen its commitment to Islamic sharia law after a Jan. 9 referendum in which mainly Christian south Sudan is expected to vote to become independent.


AFP - President Omar al-Bashir said on Sunday that northern Sudan will reinforce its Islamic laws after a January referendum which is expected to grant independence to the south.

"If south Sudan secedes, we'll change the constitution. There will be no question of cultural or ethnic diversity. Sharia will be the only source of the constitution, and Arabic the only official language," he said in a speech on national television.

Southerners are set to vote in a referendum on January 9 on whether to remain united with the north or break away and form their own country.

The vote is a key plank of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south that put an end to more than two decades of civil war.

Analysts are predicting that the southerners will opt for independence, and senior officials in Khartoum are even beginning to accept the idea of the split.

An aide to Bashir admitted on Thursday that south Sudan would probably choose secession because efforts aimed at promoting unity had failed.

"Despite our work for unity, we should not deceive ourselves or cling to dreams. We should rely on the facts on the ground," the official SUNA news agency quoted Nafie Ali Nafie as saying.

"After the secession of the south, we could see the north radicalise and the creation of a Muslim caliphate," one foreign official said on condition of anonymity.

After the civil war, Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP) and the former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) agreed on an interim constitution valid until July 2011.

The constitution recognises the "multi-ethnic," "multi-cultural" and "multi-faith" status of the Sudanese state, and is based on both sharia, or Islamic law, and the "consensus" of the population.

It also recognises Arabic and English as the two official languages of Africa's largest country, which was formerly under British and Egyptian rule.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague on Sunday put Sudan and Lebanon into the same bracket as potential areas of renewed conflict in the Arab world.

They were the "two areas in January that are most obvious at this stage to watch for a political crisis or an outbreak of violence," Hague told Britain's Sky News television.

"So across the international community we must be ready to do everything we can to assist with those countries," he said in reference to Sudan's referendum and a UN-backed investigation into ex-Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri's murder.

Bashir, meanwhile, in a speech punctuated by religious references, defended the way the authorities have dealt with the case of a young woman whose whipping by police appeared in a YouTube video.

A police spokesman said last Tuesday that 46 women and six men had been arrested for holding an illegal demonstration after the video was made public.

"There are people who say they feel ashamed about this sentence. They should review their interpretation of Islam because sharia has always stipulated that one must whip, cut, or kill," said Bashir.

Under Sudan's 1991 penal code -- which came into force two years after the coup that brought Bashir to power -- people can be whipped if found guilty of "indecent" behaviour.

Several activists have sought to challenge the legality of the code under the constitution, saying it violated articles of the interim law.


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