JUBA, Sudan — Close to 99 percent of south Sudanese chose to secede from the north in a landmark January 9-15 referendum, according to the first complete preliminary results announced on Sunday.
Earlier partial results had put the outcome of the vote beyond doubt but official figures were announced publicly for the first time during a ceremony attended by president Salva Kiir in the southern capital Juba.
Chan Reec, the chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau in charge of polling in the south, said a whopping 99.57 percent of those who voted in the south chose secession.
Turnout in the south stood at 99 percent and only 16,129 people voted for Africa's largest country to remain united, said Reec, whose announcement was met by cheers from the crowd.
Mohamed Khalil Ibrahim, who chairs the overall referendum commission, said 58 percent of southerners residing in the north and 99 percent of overseas voters chose to break away.
"The results just announced are decisive," he said. "These results lead to a change of situation, that is the emergence of two states instead of one state."
Episcopalian Archbishop Daniel Deng opened the ceremony with a prayer.
"The prayer I say the people of southern Sudan have been waiting for for 55 years, the prayer of a country. Bless the name of this land, southern Sudan," he said.
Senior southern leaders and diplomats also attended the ceremony organised at former rebel leader John Garang's mausoleum.
The revered former leader died in a plane crash shortly 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.
The emotional week-long referendum, which saw huge lines of dancing and praying voters form outside polling stations long before dawn on the first day of voting, was the centrepiece of the peace deal.
The international community has praised a ballot that allayed fears the defining moment in southern Sudan's history would be marred by violence.
In Khartoum, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who spearheaded the north's efforts to quash the rebellion during much of the 1983-2005 civil war, has already recognised the prospect of partition.
Earlier this month, he described the south's decision to become the world's 193rd state as "a new beginning" and expressed hope the two countries would enjoy "brotherly" relations, in comments that drew rare praise from Washington.
Figures published on Sunday on the commission's website, claiming to account for 100 percent of ballots cast in both the north and the south, gave secession an overwhelming 98.83 percent of the vote.
According to the commission website, 3,851,994 votes were cast.
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