| JUBA, Sudan
JUBA, Sudan South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly to declare independence from the north in a referendum, according to officials in seven out of the region's ten states polled by Reuters Wednesday.
The poll is in line with widely held expectations of the result of last week's plebiscite, the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war. Official results are not expected to be announced until early February.
Referendum officials reported large votes in favor of independence -- some releasing early figures, some saying trends pointed to support of more than 90 percent -- in the southern states of Central Equatoria, Unity, Lakes, Jonglei, Warrap, Western Bahr al-Ghazal and Eastern Equatoria.
"From the figures we have so far the vote is overwhelmingly for independence ... more than 90 percent across the board," said Alfred Sebit Lokuji, the chairman for the referendum committee covering Central Equatoria state, a territory that includes the southern capital Juba.
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, that 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 counted for.
Referendum officials in Jonglei and Eastern Equatoria states said they were heading toward a 99 percent vote for separation.
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 states of Western Equatoria and Upper Nile while no one immediately answered calls in Northern Bahr al-Ghazal.
Referendum officials have reported large votes for independence among groups of southerners voting in Egypt, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Southern leaders have urged people from the oil-producing region not to hold premature celebrations and to wait for the final figures.
(Writing by Andrew Heavens)