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Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

Sudanese light candles for Garang remembrance

July 30, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — Tens of thousands of Sudanese lit candles as dusk fell in Khartoum on Sunday in cheerful remembrance of their fallen hero of peace, southerner and First Vice President John Garang, killed one year ago.

Tens_of_thousands.jpgThe former rebel leader’s death, just three weeks after taking office as part of a peace deal to end Africa’s longest civil war, sparked calls of foul play and the worst riots in Khartoum’s recent history, killing more than 100 people.

“Every day I see his picture in my house and I cry,” said 15-year-old southerner Theresa Deng. “The day I heard of his death I was struck down.”

Sudan’s north-south civil war raged for more than two decades, killing 2 million people and forcing more than 4 million to flee their homes. Many took refuge in slums around the capital.

But on Sunday northerners, southerners, Darfuris from the west and Sudanese from the east gathered in unity in a football stadium to remember their fallen hero, the architect of the January 2005 deal which paved the way for democracy, power- and wealth-sharing.

Southerners also have the right to choose secession from the north in 2011. Northern Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, who wrote the peace accord with Garang, addressed the crowd who gave him a lukewarm welcoming round of applause.

“We will work together to achieve what he (Garang) strove for and died for,” he said. “New Sudan … justice, peace, tolerance,” he shouted, eventually persuading the crowd to chant with him.

Despite the bitter conflict between Taha’s autocratic Islamist government and Garang’s vision of a secular, democratic Sudan, the two developed a strong friendship during their negotiations.

But Sunday was not a day of sadness. Playing hip hop music and watching dancers from all parts of Sudan, the crowd sang and waved their posters of Garang and flags of his party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

“We are happy because this is Garang’s vision — we can have rallies, political freedom,” said northern trader Abdelaziz Abdelrahman. “This is his legacy — no war, no hunger.”

In Juba, the capital of southern Sudan where Garang was buried, his wife Rebecca Garang and his successor Salva Kiir Mayardit, now the only surviving founding member of the SPLM, led a service.

In Khartoum, the tens of thousands of excited supporters burst through barriers to storm the stadium pitch when Garang’s son Mabior began his speech.

Garang survived more than 21 years of guerrilla war in wild southern Sudan but enjoyed just 21 days in office in Khartoum.

A joint investigation concluded pilot error was to blame for the accident in which the helicopter carrying him crashed into a cliff face near his stronghold in the south.

The United Nations was on high alert on Sunday in case of violence and told non-essential staff to stay at home.

But for most Sudanese, anger and disbelief have tempered into sadness at the passing of the one man they believed could unite the Islamic north and mostly Christian or animist south.

“Garang was a man with a vision who really wanted to unite northern and southern Sudan and create a new Sudan,” said northern businessman Mohamed Abdelati. “I fear his death may result in the separation of south and north, and the end of the new Sudan that he was longing for.”


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