Southerners rally on vote eve

Pro-independence demonstrations provide some excitement in the usually quiet city of Juba.

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Juba, southern Sudan

Like most things in Juba, the edgy capital of southern Sudan, it happened all of a sudden.

Word spread early on Friday that there was going to be a rally at the stadium, two days before the referendum vote for southern secession to be held on Sunday.

Journalists scrambled to reach the place, hungry for some pictures and sound and keen to get away from government minders who did not want images of how poor the place really is getting out.

At least this would be a place where they could shoot without restrictions.

They came by hired cars, four-wheel drives and boda-bodas, the ubiquitous motorcycle taxis of Africa, to find only their own ilk gathered outside an ancient-looking stadium.

A German journalist, who was the earliest to reach the spot, looked disappointed. He said he had looked all around town for some action and this was the closest he had come.

But we did not have to wait for long. Soon the sound trucks, the marching band and tribal dancers materialised, along with school children led by their teachers.

It was electric. The music, the singing and dancing in a swirl of dust.

The boys showed off their dance moves and the girls had their laughs. In between, they recharged themselves with one of nature's best energy boosters – sweet mangoes. Some the world's best can be found here in plenty.

The radio crews recorded the sound, cameras zoomed in and out, as journalists tried to tell the world about what everybody here hopes will be a happy postscript to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which end 27 years of conflict between north and south Sudan, Africa's longest civil war.