, Sudan, Jan 30 – Close to 99 percent of south Sudanese chose to secede from the north in a January 9-15 referendum, according to the first complete preliminary results published Sunday.
Updated figures published on the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission\’s website and accounting for 100 percent of ballots cast in both the north and the south gave secession an overwhelming 98.83 percent of the vote.
Early counting had put the outcome of the ballot beyond doubt only days after voting ended, with partial figures showing southern Sudan had comfortably secured a mandate to secede and become the world\’s newest nation.
The results were expected to be confirmed Sunday by commission officials during an official ceremony attended by president Salva Kiir in the southern capital Juba.
Hundreds of officials and diplomats gathered Sunday morning at former rebel leader John Garang\’s grave for the first official announcement of the landmark vote\’s results.
Southern Sudan\’s leadership had urged people to respect the timeline set by the referendum commission for results announcement and refrain from celebrating too early.
"The prayer I say the people of southern Sudan have been waiting for for 55 years, the prayer of a country," Episcopalian Archbishop Daniel Deng said as he opened the ceremony.
"Bless the name of this land, southern Sudan," he said.
A podium and tents were erected at Garang\’s mausoleum and traditional dancers were brought in for the ceremony.
The revered former leader died in a plane crash just days after signing the January 2005 peace agreement that ended more than two decades of conflict between the black Christian-dominated south and the mainly Arab Muslim north.
According to the commission website, 3,851,994 votes were cast during an emotional week-long ballot that saw huge lines of dancing and praying voters form outside polling stations long before dawn on the first day of voting.