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SUDAN: Tensions and riot police surround independence referendum

December 16, 2009 |  8:42 am

SUDAN Riot police are stationed across Khartoum and parents are worried about their protesting sons and daughters as political parties prepare for next year’s election, which may bring southern Sudan closer to winning a referendum on secession.

“I don’t know if my son will return home or not. He is always out protesting,” said Shadia Fadulallah. “We are disappointed by the current situation in the country because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Things are getting worse.”

Tensions alternately calm and flare between the ruling National Congress Party of President Omar Bashir and the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. The two sides recently agreed on a formula that would grant the south independence if it won a majority in a 2011 referendum. But protests have erupted. About 50 people were arrested on Monday.

The demonstrations underscore the suspicions harbored by the two parties. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended Sudan’s civil war -- a conflict that killed more than 2 million people -- laid the groundwork for a referendum vote. But the predominately Arab north is not keen on allowing the majority animist and Christian south to break away with the bulk of the nation’s oil reserves.

In southern Sudan, at least 2,000 people have died in tribal clashes since January. Southern officials blame the government in the north for backing certain tribes. The government has denied the accusations. With tribes having plenty of arms and years of animosity, security officials worry about more violence.

“The National Congress Party and SPLM are leading us toward anarchy,” said Khamis Lokamba, a university teacher. “They always disagree, and repeated violations of Comprehensive Peace Agreement have occurred on both sides.” 

-- Alsanosi Ahmed Ibrahim in Khartoum and Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: President Omar Bashir. Credit: Associated Press