S Sudan early returns show big vote for secession

Juba (Sudan), Jan 16 (AP) Southern Sudan''s presidenttoday offered a prayer of forgiveness for northern Sudan andthe killings that occurred during a two-decade civil war, asthe first results from a weeklong independence referendumshowed an overwhelming vote for secession.

Exhausted poll workers who counted ballots overnightand deep into this morning posted returns at individualstations, and an Associated Press count of a small sampleshowed a 96 per cent vote for secession.

Sudan''s south ended its independence vote yesterday, avote most believe will split the large country in two at thedivide between Sudan''s Muslim north and Christian and animistsouth. The two sides ended a more than two decade civil war in2005 in a peace deal that provided for last week''s vote.

If everything stays on track, by July Southern Sudanshould be the world''s newest nation.

At a church service today, Southern Sudan PresidentSalva Kiir -- a stoic man not known for showing emotion --smiled, gently clapped and swayed during a service that tookon a jubilant and celebratory air.

"For our deceased brothers and sisters, particularlythose who have fallen during the time of the struggle, may Godbless them with eternal peace and, like Jesus Christ on thecross, forgive those who have forcibly caused their death,"Kiir said.

There were scattered attacks in Southern Sudan beforepolling began and in the contested region of Abyei, but thevote was peaceful, earning the praise of internationalobservers and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

US President Barack Obama congratulated Sudan on thepeaceful vote, in a statement issued Sunday.

In Juba, Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu saidSunday: "What we have in front of us is peace".

An AP review of results at 10 sites in the south''scapital of Juba found that almost 96 per cent of the almost30,000 ballots cast were for secession. About 3 per cent werefor unity and the rest were invalid.

That''s only a small sample of the approximately 3.2million votes cast, but almost all observers believe the southvoted for secession. The referendum needs to pass by a simplemajority. Results won''t be certified until any appeals areheard in early February.

"My reaction is just happiness," said Okula Thomas, a24-year-old university student who waits tables at anEthiopian restaurant. "We are going to get our freedom, wewill get development, and life will change".

Sudan''s ruling party in the north said Friday it wasready to accept southern independence. Border demarcation, oilrights and the status of the contested region of Abyei -- themost difficult issue on the table -- still have to benegotiated. (AP)

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