Early data, poll show South Sudan backing independence

JUBA, Sudan Wed Jan 19, 2011 11:51am EST

Newly arrived southern Sudanese returnees from Darfur are photographed shortly after being dropped off from a bus in Wanjok, near Aweil in Northern Bhar El-Ghazal January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Paul Banks/UNMIS/Handout

Newly arrived southern Sudanese returnees from Darfur are photographed shortly after being dropped off from a bus in Wanjok, near Aweil in Northern Bhar El-Ghazal January 16, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Paul Banks/UNMIS/Handout

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JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - South Sudanese have voted overwhelmingly to declare independence from the north in a referendum held last week, according to early figures and a Reuters survey of officials in nine of the region's 10 states.

Referendum officials reported on Wednesday that votes to secede approached 99 percent in some southern states and disapora communities in Egypt, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Southern leaders have urged people from the oil-producing territory to wait until official figures due in early February before celebrating, for fear of antagonizing the north.

The figures are in line with expectations for the plebiscite, the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war.

Referendum officials told Reuters of large votes in favor of independence in the southern states of Central Equatoria, Unity, Lakes, Jonglei, Warrap, Western Bahr al-Ghazal, Northern Bahr al-Ghazal, Eastern Equatoria and Upper Nile.

Central Equatoria state, a territory that includes the southern capital Juba, reported 449,290 votes for separation and just 4,985 votes for unity.

Campaign banners in Juba described the vote as a "last march to freedom" after decades of war and perceived northern oppression. International observers this week said the vote was credible, removing another possible hurdle.

IN Favor OF INDEPENDENCE

A total of 153,839 people voted for independence in Western Bahr al-Ghazal state, against 7,237 for continued unity with the north, the state's committee chairman Wol Madut Chan told Reuters.

Western Bahr al-Ghazal lies on the south's border with the north, neighboring the strife-torn Darfur region. Its figures amounted to a 95 percent vote for separation, once spoilt and unmarked ballots were included.

In Lakes State, referendum committee chairman Michael Mabor Makuel Awur said preliminary figures were 227 people for continued unity with the north against 298,216 for separation -- or more than 99 percent.

Referendum officials in Eastern Equatoria and Upper Nile states said they were also heading toward a 99 percent vote for separation. Warrap, Northern Bahr al-Ghazal and Jonglei states released incomplete figures showing similar majorities.

Michael Moyil Chol, the chair of the referendum committee for oil-producing Unity state, which also borders the north, said: "So far it looks like more than 80 percent are in favor of independence."

Officials did not release figures or give any indications in the state of Western Equatoria.

(Writing by Andrew Heavens; editing by Noah Barkin)

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