Sudan Shuts Down As Census Takers Struggle With Count

KHARTOUM, Sudan — The Sudanese capital was at a standstill, and all public transportation was halted in Khartoum and between major towns as a key nationwide census began Tuesday, fraught with many political and security concerns in this troubled country.

The census is considered a critical step before Sudan is to determine how political power, oil and other natural wealth should be shared within the country.

It is a key requirement stemming from a 2005 peace accord that ended a 21-year conflict between rebels in the south and the Sudanese government based in the north. Since the peace deal, the South has functioned as a quasi-autonomous region.

The instability plaguing Southern Sudan is separate from the tensions in the conflict-wracked western Darfur region, where some 2.5 million people have been displaced in the violence that also left over 200,000 dead since fighting erupted in 2003 between local rebels and the Sudanese government.

But the issue of Darfur loomed heavily over the count, as it was unclear how census takers would gain access to areas controlled by Darfur rebel groups.

In Khartoum, a few private cars could be seen downtown Tuesday, and people stayed home after the government declared the first day of the census a holiday. The Sudanese count is expected to last until May 5.

State television broadcast images of some of the 60,000 census takers preparing to go about their work. Head of the central statistics bureau, Yassin Al-Haj Abdin, said that "all preparations in all states of the country have been completed" in time.