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Final day of voting in Southern Sudan's independence referendum

A small handful of voters cast ballots today, the final day of Southern Sudan's weeklong independence referendum.

Celebrations from southerners excited about the birth of their new nation are scheduled to begin soon.

Former US President Jimmy Carter said in Khartoum, Sudan's northern capital, that the process has been orderly in both the north and south, and estimated about 90 per cent turnout in the south.

Results will start trickling in immediately after polls close this evening, but there is little suspense. Almost everyone expects the south to vote overwhelmingly to break away from the north, cleaving one of Africa's larger nations in two to create the world's newest country.

Sudan's ruling party in the north said yesterday it was ready to accept southern independence. Border demarcation, oil rights and the status of the contested region of Abyei still have to be negotiated.

If the process stays on track, southern Sudan will become the world's newest country in July.

Celebrations are planned in the south. The weeklong vote was mostly peaceful, but there were scattered attacks the previous weekend. Polling stations in Juba were jammed last weekend, but slowed to a trickle in later days.

Officials have said that more than 60 per cent of the 3.9 million registered voters have cast ballots. That was the threshold for the vote to be valid. The proposal needs only a simple majority to pass.

Individual polling stations will begin posting their results tomorrow. Official results will be released early February.

Carter has been in Sudan this week to monitor the historic independence vote and to meet with top officials. His foundation, the Carter Center, has been involved in health programs and democracy building in Sudan for more than two decades.

"We have observed a very orderly process in both the north and south, adequate enthusiasm in the north and tremendous enthusiasm and excitement in the south, heavy turnouts, probably averaging almost 90 per cent turnout in the south and about 50 per cent in the north," he said.

Carter also said he expected the Khartoum-based government to honor the poll's results.

"I think (northerners) will recognize the results immediately," he said. "When the official statement is made of the results of the referendum, my conviction is that the north, including (President Omar al-Bashir), would accept the results."