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Sudanese mark first anniversary of Garang death

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July 30, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — Thousands of Sudanese marked the first anniversary of former southern rebel leader John Garang’s tragic death in a helicopter crash Sunday, amid renewed calls to uphold the fragile peace deal he brokered.

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50 thousands of Sudanese in Khartoum attend a commemoration of Garang death in al-Merikh Stadium, J30 July 2006 (SUNA)

50 thousands of Sudanese attended a commemoration in al-Merikh Stadium, the country’s largest stadium in Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city, which was attended by Garang’s son Mabior.

People who participated in the commemoration ceremony lighted candles to symbolize love and tolerance among the citizens of the one homeland and in affirmation of pressing ahead on the road of peace and development. The participant raised slogans affirming peaceful co-existence between all for a united, strong and democratic Sudan in implementation of the ideas of Late First Vice President John Garang.

The Second Vice President Ali Osman Taha and the SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum and Chairman of the Parliamentary Group of SPLM, Yasir Arman attended the commemoration.

Amum affirmed SPLM commitment to the approach that had been charted by late Dr. John Garang to reach the Sudan of justice, freedom, democracy and welfare. Addressing the commemoration ceremony of the first anniversary of the departure of Garang held at al-Merikh Stadium Sunday, Amoum said the SPLM is committed to working for implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and endeavoring for achieving peace in all parts of Sudan.

While the Ali Osman Taha renewed the ruling party commitment to the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Services were held in churches across the country while the SPLM asked the population in the south to light candles in memory of John Garang.

A national holiday was declared to honour the memory of the late Garang and newspapers unanimously called on all parties to achieve the goals laid out by the charismatic leader before his death on July 30, 2005.

"The Sudanese people should take note of the fact that indeed they have lost a great leader who will ever be remembered for his deeds and has bequeathed this nation a living vision," the southern newspaper The Citizen wrote.

Northern newspapers closer to the government of Garang’s erstwhile foe President Omar al-Beshir also paid homage to the "prophet of peace" who fathered the January 2005 agreement that ended the more than two-decade-old north-south civil war.

Most of the press asked the question "What if Garang was still alive?" and assessments of Salva Kiir, the southern leader who succeeded him as first vice president of Sudan and head of the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), were mixed.

"Garang was a political man who always looked forward, whereas Salva is a military man who looks to the present situation. If Garang was alive, there would be no split in the movement, now this is possible," the Al-Rai Al-Aam newspaper said.

The death of the man who led the southern struggle throughout a bitter war that left 1.5 million people dead and four million displaced dealt a blow to the peace deal, albeit not a fatal one, according to most commentators.

"Garang is a hero to the southern Sudanese and he will never be forgotten... But things are pretty much going to plan. There is a lot of work to be done but at least fighting has not resumed, the reconstruction is under way, this is remarkable," said World Food Programme official in Sudan Simon Crittle.

"One year after Garang’s death, his vision for a free and prosperous southern Sudan is beginning to take shape," he said.

Crittle stressed that the government of South Sudan was trying very hard to present peace dividends to a southern population still very attracted by the idea of secession from the mainly Arab north.

"His wife Rebecca Garang, as transport minister, has a very important portfolio in that respect, because people want to see results, they want to see roads and infrastructure," he said.

"She is very instrumental in keeping his legacy alive" and has shown the utmost commitment to the peace deal, Crittle said, citing a 30-million-dollar Rebecca Garang made to WFP a month ago for rebuilding roads in the south.

"I will not miss my husband as long as you are the watchdog, the people of Sudan, the watchdog of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement," she had said shortly after Garang’s death last year.

Yet suspicion that Beshir’s government or Uganda had a hand in Garang’s death is still rife in the south, and security forces were out in force in Khartoum to prevent a repeat of deadly violence that erupted a year ago.

The conclusions of a long investigation into the crash of the Ugandan helicopter that was carrying Garang has left many southerners still doubting that their leader’s death was accidental.

The main event was due to take place in the southern capital Juba and be attended by Rebecca Garang and Kiir, who recently returned from a visit to Washington. The Organization committee of the commemoration invited Sudanese people to light candles at 6.59 pm and to pray for 5 minutes.

Since Garang’s death, people have flocked daily to his grave, symbolically located on a hill in Juba where the new parliament of South Sudan is seated.

(ST)

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