AFP PHOTO / UNAMID / ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN
Final results from the January 9-15 referendum are expected early next month
Close to 99 per cent of those who cast their ballots in south Sudan's referendum voted in favour of secession from the north, a referendum official has said.
"The vote for separation was 99.57 per cent," Chan Reek Madut, the deputy head of the commission organising the vote, told cheering crowds on Sunday in the first official announcement of preliminary results.
The figure did not include voters in north Sudan and other countries, a small proportion of the electorate. Final results from the January 9-15 referendum are expected early next month.
Madut said voter turnout in the south was also 99 per cent. He said more than 60 per cent of eligible voters turned out in the country's north, 58 per cent of whom voted for secession.
Five of the 10 states in the south showed a 99.9 per cent vote for separation and the lowest vote was 95.5 per cent in favour in the western state of Bahr al-Ghazal which borders north Sudan, according to the preliminary results.
According to the commission website, 3,851,994 votes were cast during the week-long vote.
Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from Juba, the southern capital, said officials were preparing for independence day, July 9.
"They have to form an interim government for a transitional period of six months and then fresh elections must be held," she said.
"The key thing for the president of south Sudan, Salva Kiir, is that this provisional government must be representative of all the tribal groups."
Hundreds of officials and diplomats had gathered at the grave of John Garang, a rebel leader, for the announcement.
"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.
The referendum was promised in a 2005 peace agreement that ended more than two decades of conflict between the Christian-dominated south and the mainly Arab Muslim north.
Rebel leader Garang died in a plane crash just days after signing the deal.