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South Sudan holds final rallies ahead of secession vote

A Sudanese man cheers during a demonstration in support of the referendum in Juba on 7 January 2011
The rally will proceed to the grave of John Garang, the late southern rebel who signed the peace deal

Final rallies have started in south Sudan's capital, Juba, ahead of Sunday's vote on independence for the south of the country from the north.

The BBC's Peter Martell in Juba says there is a carnival atmosphere as hundreds of people take part in what is called the "final walk to freedom".

Later this evening, there will be a concert where musicians will celebrate the referendum.

It is part of a 2005 deal that ended a two-decade north-south civil war.

US envoy to Sudan Scott Gration has told the BBC he is optimistic the referendum will take place successfully.

He said the north and south had reached out to each other in recent days and promised not to destabilise each other.

"It has been a tough ride until now but the parties have really come through. [They] have made agreements," he told the BBC.

On Wednesday, a ceasefire was signed by the authorities in Southern Sudan with a renegade officer, Lt Gen George Athor.

Gen Gration added that the south had promised Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir that it would not support rebels from Darfur.

He also said he had had reports that the ruling party in the south had asked some Darfur rebels to leave and that they had moved back into the northern region or into other countries.

Analysts say President Bashir is under intense pressure from northern politicians, who fear that the secession of the south may lead to a further splintering of the country.

'There will be no war'

Start Quote

I will not be a second-class citizen, I want to be the first only, so that is why I am happy”

End Quote Anne, Juba resident

Meanwhile Uganda's leader Yoweri Museveni said the referendum would be an opportunity to enhance security and stability in East Africa.

During the civil war he backed the southern rebel movement, while the Sudanese government supported the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebel group.

"If the people of Southern Sudan decided to stay with Khartoum willingly then, of course, there will be no war," he told the BBC's Network Africa.

"On the other hand, if they decide to go away and form their own country then there will be no war. So either way that benefit will be there, the benefit of better security."

Our reporter in Juba says Friday's rally started at the city's football stadium and is proceeding to the grave of John Garang, the late southern rebel leader who signed the peace deal with Khartoum.

He says people have been dancing on top of trucks, listening to the music and singing along to songs in support of separation from the north of the country.

Click to play

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda speaks to the BBC's Joseph Warungu

Many school children and students have also joined the parade.

"We are Christian, they are Arab, and they are Muslim. Why unite with them?" Paul, a secondary student, told the BBC.

Cheers rang out when the march passed a giant countdown sign, our reporter says.

"I will not be a second-class citizen, I want to be the first only, so that is why I am happy," another marcher, Anne, said.

A second rally is expected on Friday afternoon at Juba's university ahead of a concert, where organisers are promising top billing to four popular musicians.

Southern Sudanese will have a week to cast their vote on the future of the region, one of the least developed areas in the world.

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