Sudan's Bashir pledges support for independent south
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Tuesday pledged support for a new southern state in his first public address since the south of the country voted overwhelmingly to split from the north.
Early results from this month's referendum indicate almost 99 percent of southerners voted to secede after decades of civil war which claimed 2 million lives and destabilised much of east Africa. Bashir had campaigned for unity and many feared the north would not let the oil-producing south go without a fight.
"Secession has become a reality -- 99 percent of southerners chose separation but we will not be sad ... we will go to the south and celebrate with them," Bashir told supporters during a visit to the northern River Nile state.
"We will support the new southern state and will hold onto its stability because we are neighbours and will remain friends," he added.
While oil was a factor behind the north-south war which ended with a wealth and power-sharing agreement in 2005, most believe it will enshrine peace after the split.
Around 75 percent of Sudan's 500,000 barrels per day of crude lies in the south while the export infrastructure is in the north -- a forced economic interdependency.
Provisional results on the referendum commission's web site show almost 99 percent of voters opted for separation.
But according to the commission's own figures more than 100 percent of those registered voted in seven of 76 of the south's counties. The discrepancy is unlikely to affect the overall result but unless clarified could cast doubts over the process.
On Tuesday the deputy head of the commission, Chan Reek Madut, told reporters it was a clerical error which was being investigated and corrected.
"This is utter rubbish," he said. "This is part of the problem we have faced -- we did not have enough time to train people," he added.
International observers ahead of the count had said the vote was credible and had met global standards.
But while both sides seem to have accepted secession, disputes over the border, citizenship and how to share the debilitating external debt of almost $40 billion are unresolved.
The central Abyei region, which was supposed to hold its own referendum on whether to join the north or south, remains the major point of conflict, and clashes there between rival tribes marred celebrations during the southern vote.
Officials have said a solution to Abyei will likely be part of a larger deal over other outstanding post-referendum issues.
"The commission urges the parties to seek to resolve expeditiously the outstanding... obligations -- notably Abyei," the international commission monitoring the 2005 north-south deal said in a statement on Tuesday.
Initial results of the southern referendum are due to be announced on January 30. Any appeals would mean final results declared on February 14.