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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The Constitutional Court agreed on Tuesday to investigate a petition by Sudanese lawyers for the dissolution of the body organising the referendum on a southern secession, which could derail the January 9 vote, state media said.
Most believe the oil-producing south will secede in the vote, which was built into the 2005 north-south peace deal that ended Africa's longest civil war. The northern ruling National Congress Party, which wants unity, has accused the south of manipulating the voter registration which ended on December 8.
"The Constitutional Court provisionally accepted a petition against the referendum commission," the Sudanese Media Centre said. "Now it will look into the demands of the group of lawyers and ask the commission to react before making a final ruling."
The head of the south Sudan referendum commission, Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, said he knew of six legal petitions against the process, and added that the court would hear both sides' arguments before giving a ruling.
"This kind of situation which is fraught with emotion and political overtones, I don't think it would accept it so easily," he told Reuters.
Lawyers said the court would likely rule after three days.
The ruling southern party, the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), accused the NCP of masterminding all the legal challenges to the referendum in an effort to delay or derail it.
Observers said the registration process was free from any violations which would affect the overall outcome.
The referendum commission was sworn in in July, some three years late, and given an extremely difficult mission. But the United Nations and the commission say the vote is still on schedule for January 9.
To meet the tight deadline, the commission had to cut corners, including ignoring an article in the referendum law saying voter registration must be completed three months before the plebiscite, which left it vulnerable to legal challenges.
If the court rules against the commission, there will be a delay in the vote, which the SPLM fears could lead to violence by frustrated southerners.
The north-south civil war claimed some 2 million lives and destabilised much of east Africa.