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Some optimism about Sudan referendum after months of doubts

While problems remain in some spots along the border, it seems increasingly likely that the Sudan referendum on southern Sudan's independence could go smoothly.

By Alex ThurstonGuest blogger / January 4, 2011

Southern Sudanese watch as Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir arrives at the airport in Juba on Jan. 4, 2011. The visit is his last to Juba before the Jan. 9 referendum.

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

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Throughout November and December, Sudanese officials, international journalists, and Western election observers showed uncertainty about whether Sudan could complete logistical preparations in time for Jan. 9, the date of the referendum on Southern Sudanese independence. With the referendum fast approaching, officials in Sudan and in the US are now sounding confident about the preparations in place for the vote, and journalists like Jeffrey Gettleman are saying the chances of civil war “are slim and getting slimmer.” Potential problems remain, though, especially in the border region of Abyei, whose own referendum has been postponed. The basic picture we get, then, looks positive in South Sudan but less positive for areas outside of the core South that have South Sudanese residents.

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Reuters writes about Sudanese and American optimism:

Almost 4 million southern Sudanese, or roughly half the south’s population, have registered to take part in an independence referendum next week that is likely to split Africa’s largest country in two, officials said on Monday.

The U.S. State Department said it was optimistic ahead of the vote, which is due to begin in six days and marks the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war in Sudan that killed at least 2 million people and destablised much of the region.

Recent remarks and actions from President Omar al Bashir have bolstered optimism about the referendum. Bashir is visiting Southern Sudan today, in a move that a top official in the South called a “good gesture.” Bashir’s visit follows his statement indicating that he will respect the referendum results.

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