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South Sudan Marks Countdown to Independence Vote

Southern Sudanese citizens clog the streets of the southern capital Juba as they march in support of the upcoming independence referendum, Dec 9, 2010

Thousands of people marched in southern Sudan Thursday to show support for next month's referendum on southern independence.

Supporters marched through the regional capital, Juba, singing songs and chanting slogans calling for separation from the rest of Sudan. Southerners have been holding monthly marches to show their support for the poll.

The semi-autonomous south is scheduled to hold a referendum Jan 9 on whether to become an independent state.

Preparations for the vote are running far behind schedule. Earlier this week, the chairman of the referendum commission, Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, said he wanted a delay of a "few days" for technical reasons.

The referendum was a key part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Sudan's 21-year north-south civil war.

A separate referendum also is to be held Jan 9 on whether the oil-producing Abyei region becomes part of the north or the south.

Preparations for that poll have been held up by political disputes and, on Tuesday, a U.S. State Department spokesman said holding the poll on January 9 would be "virtually impossible."