, KHARTOUM, Jan 9 – Basics facts about Sudan which on Sunday launched a seven-day referendum that will give the semi-autonomous south the chance to remain united with the north or choose independence.
– GEOGRAPHY: The northern African country, and the continent\’s largest, with an area of 2,505,813 square kilometres (967,245 square miles). It shares borders with Egypt, Libya, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is crossed by the Nile and has an 800 kilometre (500 mile) coast on the Red Sea. The capital is Khartoum. Juba is the capital of the south.
– POPULATION: 42 million (2009 estimates), including 8.5 million in the south.
– OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: Arabic.
– RELIGION: Sunni Muslims are the majority in the north, where the regime has enforced strict Islamic law since 1983. The south is mostly Christian and animist.
– HISTORY: Jointly ruled by Britain and Egypt from 1899 until independence in 1956. From then until 1972 Sudan was rocked by civil war, pitting successive governments against southern rebels. The conflict ended with a treaty that granted autonomy to the south.
Military regime under the command of Field Marshal Gaafar al-Nimeiry (1969-1985).
Civilian parliamentary system (1986-1989) under prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi who was overthrown by an Islamist-backed military coup on June 30, 1989 led General Omar al-Bashir.
Bashir was elected president in December 2000 after his National Congress Party (NCP) won most seats in parliament in an election boycotted by almost all the opposition.
Sudan\’s second civil war erupted in 1983 when rebels rose up against Khartoum to demand a secular, democratic "New Sudan." Two million people were killed and another four million displaced.
Africa\’s longest war ended on January 9, 2005, when John Garang, leader of the rebel Sudan People\’s Liberation Movement/Army, signed a peace accord with Khartoum which exempted the south from sharia law and granted it six years of self rule ahead of a referendum on independence.
Bashir was returned to power in April 2010 in an election that also saw Salva Kiir extend his mandate as president of the south.
On March 4, 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. The following year he was indicted for genocide.
The Darfur war erupted in February 2003 when rebels rose up against Khartoum to demand an end to what they considered the political and economic marginalisation of their region.
According to UN figures some 300,000 people died in Darfur. Khartoum says 10,000 people were killed.
– POLITICAL INSTITUTIONSS: The former SPLM southern rebels partnered with the Khartoum government in 2005 to run the country in line with a new constitution.
Parliament: 450 seats with more than 70 percent controlled by Bashir\’s ruling NCP since the April 2010 general election and 22 percent held by the SPLM.
– ECONOMY: Until the second half of 2008, Sudan\’s economy boomed on the back of increased oil production, high oil prices and large inflows of foreign direct investment. It produces around 500,000 barrels per day of crude, with about 400,000 bpd exported, mostly to China.
GDP: Estimated at 54.68 billion dollars (World Bank, 2009).
Per capita income: 1,220 dollars (World Bank, 2009).
Agriculture: Key sector that employs 87 percent of the workforce and contributes a third of GDP.
Principal exports: Oil, cotton, gum arabic and sorghum.
External Debt: 36 billion dollars
Currency: The Sudanese pound.
– ARMED FORCES: Sudanese armed forces (SAF) in the north, numbering around 110,000 men. Sudan People\’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the south. Paramilitary forces number 17,500.
The joint UN-African Union force (UNAMID) has more than 22,000 soldiers and policemen deployed in Darfur, while the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has around 10,000 soldiers and police deployed in the south or north-south border region.