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Sudan's President Accepts Southern Secession Vote

Feb 7, 2011 – 12:17 PM
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Lauren Frayer

Lauren Frayer Contributor

Sudan's beleaguered president, Omar al-Bashir, announced today that he accepts the results of a vote by his country's south to secede and form its own country -- a move that will ultimately diminish his power over roughly a third of Africa's largest nation.

Almost 99 percent of voters in southern Sudan voted last month in favor of independence from the mostly Muslim and Arab north, according to results released today. The January vote was the last big step in implementing a 2005 peace treaty that ended Africa's longest civil war, between north and south Sudan. The status of one small but oil-rich region on the border of the north and south, Abyei, still remains unresolved.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir attends a special Africa Union meeting on Sudan on January 31, 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. African leaders huddled on January 31 to tackle festering conflicts in Sudan and Somalia at a summit overshadowed by Egypt's popular uprising and the leadership crisis in Ivory Coast. While Sudan stands on the brink of splitting and Somalia nears collapse, the African Union (AU) summit, which opened on January 30, has been forced to address the popular uprising against President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the unrest in Tunisia and the political stalemate in Ivory Coast. (Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images)
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is not opposing the results of last month's referendum on independence for the country's south, which was supported by nearly 99 percent of voters.
At first, al-Bashir backed unity for Sudan and sought to delay the southern referendum on independence, but eventually he acquiesced amid conflicts on several fronts, with rebel uprisings in western Darfur and along the eastern border with Ethiopia. He's also been challenged by a series of small street protests inspired by uprisings against similarly authoritarian Arab leaders in nearby Tunisia and Egypt.

The International Criminal Court has indicted the Sudanese leader for alleged crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. But there's speculation that the West may seek to defer an arrest warrant for now, on the condition that al-Bashir cooperates with the south's breakaway process. Washington has also signaled that it may drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, Reuters reported.

"We will announce today in front of the world our acceptance and respect for the choice of the people of the south," al-Bashir said in a speech on state TV, excerpted by VOA News. He acknowledged that the results of the referendum are "well known" and that southern Sudan has "chosen secession." Final results from last month's vote are scheduled to be released later today at a ceremony in Khartoum.

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"We are committed to good relations based on cooperation," al-Bashir said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The president's comments today could allay fears that southern secession could spark more violence. And southern Sudanese are already celebrating their independence, ahead of an official declaration slated for July.

"This is our day for freedom," Santino Machar, a student in the southern capital of Juba, told AFP. "We are ready to celebrate all night long."
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