Early votes show support for South Sudan split

Early results yesterday from the southern Sudan referendum showed an overwhelming vote in favour of splitting Africa's largest country.

A day after voting ended, the running tally at the main polling stations in the regional capital Juba showed near total support for secession with 96 per cent of the electorate making their mark for separation.

The day began with church services across what is set to become the world's newest country when official results are announced in early February.

However, most southern Sudanese were not waiting for confirmation as the required turnout of 60 per cent was passed days ago and returns have made it clear that the simple majority needed for secession is a certainty.

At the cathedral in Juba the man who will become the first president of independent South Sudan, Salva Kiir, led muted celebrations.

"We offer a prayer of gratitude for the peaceful voting of the referendum," he told the congregation. "We present these votes to God, who will bring change through his people of this country."

The vote was the culmination of a five year transitional period that followed the end of Sudan's second civil war. The framers of the comprehensive peace agreement signed in neighbouring Kenya in 2005 had intended that the transition be used to heal rifts between the Arab-dominated north and the mainly animist and Christian south.

However, distrust of the north entrenched by a half century of nearly uninterrupted war, the legacy of slavery and Sudan's uneven development has meant unerring support for secession.

Close to four million southern Sudanese have voted with polling taking place in both the north and south, and among the Diaspora.

Once the final result is confirmed tough negotiations over the terms of the divorce will begin.

The formal creation of the new state will then follow on 9 July.

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