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South Sudan Moves to Postpone Elections to Resolve Government's 'Legitimacy Issues'

Amid ongoing fighting between the government and rebel groups, South Sudan's Cabinet has moved to put off elections scheduled for June until 2017.

by Olivia Becker
Feb 14 2015, 8:30pm

Photo via AP

South Sudan's Cabinet has announced plans to extend President Salva Kiir's term and postpone national elections that were supposed to be held in June.

The move, which seeks to put off the elections until 2017, must be approved by the country's parliament, which is expected to review the proposal Tuesday. The proposal also calls for the current parliament's term in office to be extended until 2017.

South Sudan's Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth told the Associated Press the elections should be postponed in order to resolve any "legitimacy issues" from a potential future power-sharing agreement between Kiir and his rival, former Vice President Riek Machar.

"We want to give peace a chance… because we are optimistic that a peace deal will be signed," Lueth told the AP.

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He added that the move was necessary to avoid a potential power vacuum after Kiir's scheduled departure from office in July.

Kiir fired Machar from his position as deputy in July 2013, then accused him of plotting a coup in December of that year. Although Machar denied the accusation, he soon became the de facto leader of rebels fighting an armed rebellion against Kiir.

The fighting, which has been ongoing in the country since December 2013, has broken down along ethnic divisions. Forces loyal to Kiir and his government are predominantly members of the majority Dinka ethnicity, while Machar's forces are, like him, mostly part of the Nuer ethnicity.

The warring government and rebel forces signed a tentative agreement on February 2 to end the country's 15-month conflict. The two sides agreed on a timetable for crafting a power-sharing agreement. Peace talks are expected to resume in Ethiopia on February 20.

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Fighting has killed thousands and displaced at least 1.5 million people in South Sudan. Both sides have accused the other of committing atrocities, including gang rapes and mass killings of civilians.

The United Nations, which has 8,500 peacekeeping troops in South Sudan, has also accused each side of committing crimes against humanity.

South Sudan became the world's youngest country after gaining independence from Sudan in 2011.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928