JUBA, Sudan — A small handful of voters cast ballots Saturday, the final day of Southern Sudan's weeklong independence referendum, as officials and observers noted high turnout and praised the mostly peaceful voting process.
Celebrations from southerners excited about the birth of their new nation are scheduled to begin soon.RELATED:Our World: Sudanese crossroadsS. Sudan celebrates as independence referendum starts
Results will start trickling in immediately after polls close Saturday 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.
Officials and observers reported high voter turnout.
Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, the chairman of the south's referendum
commission, said 83 percent of those registered in the south and 53
percent of those registered in the north had cast their votes. He also
cited a 91 percent turnout rate among Sudanese voters in eight other
countries. Officials had said there were some 3.9 million registered
Khalil said he believed the referendum would be judged as "a good result
by any international standard," noting that the commission set up the
vote in four months.
"We have come a long way, making long strides to reach the stage where
we are today," said Khalil, a lawyer from northern Sudan who is 90 years
He echoed predictions that the south would choose to split from the north.
"All indications show that the south will lean toward separation," he
said, adding, "I don't derive any pleasure from announcing the splitting
of Sudan in two ... on the contrary, I would rather have hoped the
country would remain united."
Sudan's ruling party in the north said Friday 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.