Much of the session on Wednesday was devoted to procedural issues, such as election of a speaker and his first deputy for the 450-strong National Assembly - appointed in accordance with the 9 January peace deal.

Members began the meeting by electing Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, the former speaker of the Sudanese parliament from the ruling National Congress Party, as speaker. SPLM delegate Atim Garang Deng was elected first deputy speaker.

Seats in the National Assembly, the largest in the history of the country, were distributed according to power-sharing quotas in the accord that gave the NCP 52% of the seats.

The NCP's peace partner and former southern rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), got 28%.

Northern opposition parties received 14% and their counterparts in the south got 6%.

Non-participants

The opposition Umma Party of former premier Sadiq al-Mahdi and the Popular Congress Party of Islamist leader Hasan al-Turabi have said they will not participate in the new parliament.

Sudanese leaders said they were holding discussions with the National Democratic Alliance, a grouping of former-exiled opposition forces, on its participation in state institutions, including parliament.

Officials said one of the first duties of the new assembly would be to amend laws to conform to the spirit of the peace deal.