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Southern Sudan president sworn in; vote on separation from north next on agenda

JUBA, Sudan (AP) — The president of southern Sudan was sworn in on Friday, eight months ahead of a scheduled referendum on whether the south will secede from the north.

President Salva Kiir told about 1,000 people gathered on a blistering morning that he would promote unity and consolidate a democratic system of government.

New billboards have recently replaced campaign signs in the southern capital of Juba, signaling a shift in the southern government's priorities toward preparation for January's referendum. "We are close to the nation we have all wished to see," reads a new billboard on the road from the airport into town.

The south and the northern government, led by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, must still negotiate how the two regions will share oil revenues and divide access to the Nile River waters before the referendum. Divisions of the country's debts and assets, and questions of citizenship and minority rights also still need to be negotiated.

Analysts worry that the 5-year-old southern government will struggle in completing a daunting array of tasks prior to the holding of its self-determination referendum.

Bashir is expected to be sworn in next Thursday. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for atrocities committed in the western Sudan region of Darfur, and Human Rights Watch this week urged European diplomats to not attend his inauguration next week.

The group said that "governments that are committed to justice for atrocities committed in Darfur" should boycott the ceremony.

Kiir won last month's vote in a landslide, getting 93 percent of ballots cast.

In his speech, he pledged to improve the education system in the south, where the U.N. estimates that less than 50 percent of children receive five years of primary school education, and where 85 percent of adults are illiterate.

Kiir said that the percentage of women in southern Sudan who die in childbirth is "shameful," and that progress must be made in extending health services throughout southern Sudan's vast, largely remote and rural peripheral regions.

He also called for reconciliation within the south, which has been devastated by decades of conflict.

In attendance Friday were Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi and Sudan's second vice president, Ali Osman Taha.