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Sudan braced for historic announcement

Sudan secession referendum results will be announced in a ceremony by President Omar al-Bashir and southern leader Salva Kiir

AFP , Monday 7 Feb 2011
Election officials carry ballot boxes moments after polls closed in Juba, Southern Sudan, January 2011(AP)

Final results of Sudan's landmark independence referendum for the south due out on Monday were expected to confirm a landslide vote for secession, paving the way in July for the creation of Africa's newest state.

The results, to be announced at a ceremony in Khartoum attended by President Omar al-Bashir and southern leader Salva Kiir, are effectively known already, after preliminary results released on January 30 showed almost 99 percent of south Sudanese voted to break from the north.

Bashir, who has already recognised the prospect of partition, on Sunday repeated his commitment to developing good relations with the south after independence, and said southerners staying in the north had nothing to fear.

"Southerners in the north will be protected, they will not be expelled and their property will not be confiscated nor their lives threatened," he was quoted as saying by Ajras Al-Hurriya, a newspaper considered close to the ex-rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

The January 9-15 referendum defied expectations by taking place on time and largely without incident, despite the major logistical challenges facing the organisers and fears that the Khartoum government might try to block a process that will almost certainly split Africa's largest nation in two.

Instead, senior northern officials said shortly after the preliminary results were confirmed that the government would accept the final outcome of the vote.

The cabinet was expected to endorse the final results on Monday, prior to the formal announcement ceremony.

"The spokesman for the government will make a statement about the results after an extraordinary cabinet meeting at 1200 GMT," a cabinet source told AFP.

The referendum commission said the final results would be announced at 1630 GMT.

Reflecting the relatively smooth conduct of the referendum, which drew praise from world leaders, the commission said on Sunday that no appeals were filed, which might have delayed the final announcement by a week.

The vote was the centrepiece of a 2005 peace deal that ended a devastating 22-year conflict between the largely African Christian south and the mainly Arab Muslim north.

In addition to the sensitive question of citizenship, Khartoum and Juba now have less than six months to agree on a number of thorny issues that have yet to be resolved, among them the status of the flashpoint Abyei region, oil-revenue sharing, and border demarcation.

More than 37 people died in clashes in Abyei in January, amid a deadlock over a planned simultaneous plebiscite on whether the region stays with the north or joins the south.

At the African Union summit in Addis Ababa last week, Kiir reiterated the SPLM's stand that the contested region should hold the referendum or be handed to the south by a presidential decree.

Northern opposition leaders have also warned that southern independence will encourage separatist movements in other parts of Sudan like Darfur, where renewed fighting between rebels and the Sudanese army has forced more than 43,000 people to flee their homes since December, according to UN estimates.

And at least 50 people were killed in fighting in south Sudan’s Upper Nile state last week, in a revolt by militiamen refusing to turn in heavy weapons, according to local officials.

The referendum itself has prompted jubilation in the south.

By contrast, its outcome has caused sadness and at times anger in the north, where student activists organised street protests last week calling for regime change, civil liberties and an end to debilitating price rises, that were swiftly suppressed by the security forces.

"Today is a sad day for all the citizens of north Sudan. It's a tragedy somehow," said a 23-year-old student activist, who gave only his first name of Mohammed.

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© 2010 Ahram Online.