Page last updated at 10:21 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 11:21 UK

Sudan signs crucial election law

Map of Sudan

Sudan's parliament has passed a new electoral law, taking a crucial step towards holding the first democratic election in more than 20 years.

A government official said the law raised hopes of an end to conflict, though South Sudan's main party said free elections were not yet possible.

Elections are due to take place next year under a 2005 peace accord that ended 21 years of civil war.

Fighting in the oil-rich area of Abyei had threatened to derail the accord.

Ghazi Salaheddin, a senior official of the governing National Congress, said the law was "unprecedented".

"It injects a new spirit in the Sudan, it gives Sudanese hope that ultimately they could have some peace, some national consensus," he told Reuters news agency.

A spokesman for the main party in the south, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM), said free and fair election were not yet possible.

"The press and media law, the national security law and even the criminal laws must be changed," said Yasir Arman, a senior SPLM official and member of parliament.

Officials from northern and southern Sudan said last month that an international court should settle the border row affecting Abyei.

Under the 2005 deal, the south is autonomous and is due to hold a referendum in 2011 on whether to secede.


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