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South Sudan Puts on Dress Rehearsal for Independence

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The countdown is on for South Sudan's independence July 9, and the country's future capital is making its final preparations for the big day.

Joy in Juba
"Right now we're on one of Juba's main streets, which has been closed down for a parade. It's a massive event with thousands of people, some from civil groups, some from student groups chanting, singing, welcoming the new independence as they walk toward the parade grounds that will host Saturday's ceremonies," reports VOA's East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow from Juba. "Nothing to say about it, except that its just unbridled enthusiasm and joy, and quite a scene to behold."

Juba, the future capital of southern Sudan, is buzzing with excitement as the country prepares to officially declare independence Saturday.

Remembering John Garang

The ceremony itself will be held at the John Garang mausoleum - a stadium that honors the man who led southern rebels during Sudan's 20-year civil war.

One of the most anticipated moments will be the first performance of the country's brand new national anthem.

Susan Junua is part of a national choir that has been recruited to teach the anthem to people around the country.

The words, written by students and faculty at Juba University, reflect hope, a respect for God and a commemoration of those who died during years of conflict.

Junua says independence marks a new beginning.

"As a South Sudanese, the independence is a freedom. To my life, because we have been tortured, we have been in slavery for many years," said Junua.

Security

Following so many years of war, the presence of military on the streets of Juba is overwhelming. Soldiers and police have been conducting security checks, and occasionally shutting down the town's few paved roads to help prepare for the festivities.

But the citizens of the town are looking forward to a new era of peace.

Joseph Otumoro, who goes to a Catholic school in Juba, hopes with independence, there will be more opportunities for students like him.

"Every youth should get educated at least, this is what I need because we were marginalized and a lot of people did not get a chance to go to school and that is why I need that change," he said.

Ceremonies

Hundreds of foreign dignitaries, including the heads of state of 30 African countries, are expected to arrive for the ceremony. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been listed as one of the key speakers.

And in another much anticipated moment, entering the parade grounds to the tune of Sudan's current national anthem, will be President Omar al-Bashir.

Bashir represents for many the years of oppression against southern Sudan by Khartoum in the north.

And his presence will almost certainly cause mixed emotions for some as the Sudanese flag is lowered, and the new, six-colored flag of South Sudan, is raised on independence day.

Article by Gabe Joselow, VOA News