Huge turnout at south Sudan’s independence referendum has defied gloomy expectations and is almost guaranteed to reach the 60 percent of voters needed to make the poll valid, organizers said yesterday.
Thousands of people took part in the third day of voting yesterday in a referendum expected to see the region emerge as Africa’s newest state.
The largely peaceful vote in the south has been marred by four days of clashes between Arab nomads and southerners in the contested border region of Abyei.
“It is proceeding very, very smoothly. There doesn’t seem to be any fear of not reaching the 60 percent limit. As a matter of fact, we think it will do a lot better than that,” said Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil, the chairman of the vote’s organizing commission.
The referendum was promised in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Africa’s longest civil war between the mostly Muslim north and the south, where most follow Christianity and traditional beliefs.
Under the regulations, the vote needs a 60 percent turnout to be valid. More than 50 percent of voters need to choose independence for the south to secede — seen as the most likely outcome.
Final results are due out before Feb. 15, with preliminary figures expected up to two weeks earlier. About 4 million people signed up to vote in the south and in diaspora communities of southerners in the north and abroad.
Polling hours will be extended for the remaining five days of the vote to cope with the huge crowds that have been turning out, organizers said yesterday.
The huge crowds of eager voters still lining up to cast their ballots at the end of the original 8am to 5pm polling hours had left many polling stations struggling to cope.
In Lakes state west of Juba, Governor Chol Tong Mayay said some voters were having to repeat the long journey from their remote home villages for a second day because huge lines remained at the end of normal polling hours.
In other developments, armed Misseriya Arab tribesmen killed 10 south Sudanese civilians and wounded 18 near the border as they were returning from the north, southern internal affairs minister Gier Chuang said yesterday.
Chuang called for the Khartoum government to be held accountable for the attack by the nomad tribe, which was a key auxiliary militia of the northern army during the civil war and is involved in a continuing conflict with pro-southern Dinka in the disputed border district of Abyei.
In New York, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Monday the organization was “extremely concerned” about the reports of clashes and casualties in Abyei on Sunday.
Colonel Philip Aguer, the spokesman for Southern Sudan’s military, said Misseriya tribesmen and fighters from a former Khartoum-backed militia killed 20 police and wounded 30 more during an attack with anti-tank weapons and artillery in the village of Maker-Adhar on Sunday.
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