Polls open for Southern Sudan independence vote

January 9, 2011 08:29

JUBA, Sudan  — About four million Southern Sudanese voters began casting their ballots Sunday in a weeklong referendum on independence that is expected to split Africa's largest nation in two.

"This is the historic moment the people of southern Sudan have been waiting for," said South Sudan president Salva Kiir as he cast his vote in front of a cheering crowd of hundreds of Sudanese voters lined up in front of the polling station, along with actor and Sudan activist George Clooney and US Sen. John Kerry.The oil-rich, mainly Christian south is widely expected to secede from the mainly Muslim north. The north has promised to let the south go peacefully if it votes for independence.

The referendum is part of a 2005 peace deal that ended a two-decade civil war in which more than 2 million people died.

"I have seen the inside of war so we have to stop the war now. We are very happy the Arabs are going away," said Mawien Mabut, a 36-year-old soldier who was grinning widely as he lined up to cast his ballot.

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