South Sudan begins voting in referendum

Millions of south Sudanese started voting on Sunday in a historic vote that will decide whether the country splits or remains united.

South Sudan begins voting in referendum

Millions of south Sudanese started voting on Sunday in a historic vote that will decide whether the country splits or remains united.

South Sudan's president Salva Kiir cast the first vote in the region just after 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) in the southern capital of Juba, a Reuters witness said.

Voters slept outside overnight and huge queues built up outside polling stations before dawn in Juba.

The referendum law states that of those registered, 60 percent need to turn out for the vote to be valid. About 10,800 staff will work in almost 3,000 referendum centres and more than 14,000 police will secure the process in the south. The north has deployed 17,500 police. Voting is due to begin on Jan. 9 and last one week.

The result should be announced by Feb. 15, 2011, although preliminary results for the south -- the majority of voters -- will be announced on Jan. 31.

In the north, the prospect of losing a quarter of the country's land mass -- and the source of most of its oil -- has been greeted with resignation.

"It is a feeling of sadness and anger at the same time ... It is also a feeling of disappointment in the political leadership of the south who have guided the southerners towards secession," said Ibrahim Ghandour, a senior member of the north's ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

In the build-up to the vote, Juba and Khartoum looked liked the capitals of two different countries.

In Juba, trucks blaring out music and slogans roared past buildings covered in pro-separation posters.

Kiir earlier had repeated promises that there would be no return to war with the north.

"We are left only with a few hours to make the most ... important decision of our lifetime. I urge you to make the decision in a peaceful manner," he said in a speech.

In Khartoum, traffic was light and there were no banners acknowledging the historic referendum.

The vote's organising commission told Reuters it had defied gloomy forecasts of delays to deliver all voting materials on time for Sunday's deadline.

The logistical achievements have not been matched by political progress. Southerners went to the polls without knowing the exact position of their border with the north or how much of Sudan's debt they will have to shoulder if a split.

The two sides have been locked in negotiations for months over how they might share out oil revenues and settle other issues after secession. There is no public sign of progress.

The south also will have to face up to its own internal ethnic rivalries and resolve a bitter dispute with the north over the ownership of the central Abyei region.


Agencies

Last Mod: 09 Ocak 2011, 11:15
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