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Sudan opposition parties forge alliance

A new deal between former southern rebels who hope to secede in 2011 and a northern opposition group could threaten President Omar al-Bashir's grip on power if fair elections are held next year.

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Sudan's crucial presidential and parliamentary elections – a possible milestone for peace in a country rattled by two decades of civil war – appear to be well underway.

This week, a former southern rebel group that now shares power in Khartoum with its northern rivals signed a memorandum of understanding to form an electoral alliance with a northern opposition group, bringing the strongest-yet challenge to the rule of President Omar al-Bashir.

The very fact that the southern rebels, the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, have a campaign strategy for the 2010 elections is a hopeful sign, since the SPLM is thought to be preparing itself for a referendum in 2011 that could give southern Sudan its independence. But in the meantime, SPLM leaders are willing to fight for power in a unified Sudan, this time with votes rather than with weapons of war.

"There are a number of hopeful signs for this election," says Abdul Rahim Ali Mohammad Ibrahim, a political analyst who has close ties to Mr. Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP). "The leaders of the SPLM are saying openly that they want to stay in a united Sudan, although a number of people in their party do not feel the same way."

Like many observers, Mr. Ibrahim says the SPLM's alliance with the northern-based Umma Party of former Sudanese Prime Minster Sadiq al-Mahdi should be seen more as a symbolic gesture of mutual support against a common political enemy.

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