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South Sudan eyes landslide to secede

by Staff Writers
Juba, Sudan (AFP) Jan 20, 2011
Organisers of south Sudan's landmark independence vote were collating the remaining preliminary results on Thursday, poised to return a landslide for secession after reaching the simple majority required on just 60 percent of the ballot.

Final results, which will set the mainly Christian, African south on the road to recognition as the world's newest state in July, are not expected until next month.

But figures gathered by AFP from state and county referendum officials around the south showed that 2,224,857 votes for separation from the mainly Muslim, Arab north had already been returned by Wednesday evening.

That comfortably exceeded the simple majority of 1.89 million votes needed on the 96-percent turnout of the 3,932,588 registered voters.

In some areas, the vote for partitioning Africa's and the Arab world's largest nation was almost unanimous in a region still ravaged by a devastating 1983-2005 civil war.

In Lakes state, centred on Rumbek town which served as rebel headquarters during the war, 298,216 of the 300,444 votes cast were for independence, more than 99.9 percent.

Just 227 opted to remain united with the north -- less than a tenth of one percent -- with the balance made up by blank or invalid ballots.

Posters urging people to remember the sacrifices of the estimated two million people who died in the war are ubiquitous in the region's towns.

"Make sure the martyrs did not die in vain," voters were repeatedly urged in the referendum run-up.

In the busy Konyo-Konyo market area of the regional capital Juba, excitement was high.

"It is what we have been wanting for so long," said Moses Adut, a former rebel soldier turned motorbike-taxi driver. "The blessed day is arriving soon."

Traders in the chaotic, sprawling market said they had celebrated at the news that Juba had voted overwhelmingly for separation, but were saving their full partying for the expected formal and final announcement in mid-February.

The once sleepy town now poised to become the world's newest capital returned a 97.5-percent majority for secession, according to the preliminary results.

"We have been told not to jump the gun, to wait until everything is in order before we celebrate," said Malaak Ajok, a building materials trader.

"I am happy inside to know the results, but I can wait a bit longer. After, all we have been waiting for over 50 years for this moment."

The Citizen, south Sudan's top-selling newspaper and the only one printed in Juba, was quick to remind the southern leadership that different sets of skills were needed to lead a rebellion and to steer a country to prosperity.

The "people of south Sudan have great expectations and the interim leadership should immediately begin meeting with some of them," the paper said in an editorial on Thursday.

"Our people certainly don't want the fruits of an independent south to taste bitter," The Citizen added, referring to reports of police harassment and what it said was the urgent need for democracy and order.

Poll officials and the former rebel government have been meticulous about respecting the agreed procedures for collating the results of the week-long vote, which was the centrepiece of the 2005 peace deal that ended the war.

"We are being methodical to make sure all the rules are respected -- and that takes time, of course," said Aleu Garang Aleu, a spokesman for the Southern Sudanese Referendum Bureau, which is running the vote in the south.

Norway's foreign minister, a member of the troika of Western powers assisting the implementation of Sudan's six-year-old peace deal, praised Sudan's leaders for the smooth polling.

"Leaders in both north and south have shown great political courage in the last few weeks. We hope that this will create a positive departure point," Jonas Gahr Store said in a statement.

Leaders had warned against any premature celebration or triumphalism that might undermine hopes of a "velvet divorce" from the north and an end to the conflict that has blighted Sudan ever since colonial power Britain decided to grant it independence as a single nation.

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