South Sudanese dance to celebrate independence

JUBA, (Reuters) – Thousands of South Sudanese danced  in the streets today (last night local time) to mark their long-awaited  independence, a hard-won separation from the north that also  plunged the fractured region into a new period of uncertainty.

A woman holds a candle during South Sudan’s independence day celebrations in Juba yesterday. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

The new Republic of South Sudan, an under-developed oil  producer, became the world’s newest nation on the stroke of  midnight.

It won its independence in a January referendum — the  climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with  the north.

In the south’s capital Juba, people on the corners of dirt  streets waved flags and danced in the lights of car headlights,  chanting “SPLM o-yei, South Sudan o-yei, freedom o-yei”.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) led the rebels  who fought the north until 2005 and now dominates the southern  government.

Thousands packed the streets of Juba and crammed into the  back of trucks, setting off fireworks, banging on plastic cans  and dancing.

“Free at last,” said Simon Agany, 34, as he walked around  shaking hands. “Coming away from the north is total freedom.”

Men and women coming out of a late night church service  shook hands and congratulated each other, wishing each other  “Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday.”

Among the revellers was South Sudan’s information minister,  Barnaba Marial Benjamin, who told Reuters: “It is already the  ninth so we are independent. It is now.”

North Sudan’s Khartoum government was the first to recognise  the new state, hours before the formal split took place, a move  that smoothed the way to the division of what was, until  today, Africa’s largest country.

The recognition did not dispel fears of future tensions.

Northern and southern leaders have still not agreed on a  list of sensitive issues, most importantly the exact line of the  border and how they will handle oil revenues, the lifeblood of  both economies.

At the stroke of midnight the Republic of Sudan lost around  three quarters of its oil reserves, which are sited in the  south, and faced the future with insurgencies in its Darfur and  Southern Kordofan regions.

In Khartoum, just before the split, Sudanese President Omar  Hassan al-Bashir, who now leads just the north, told journalists  he would attend the independence celebrations later in the day  in Juba.

“I would like to stress … our readiness to work with our  southern brothers and help them set up their state so that, God  willing, this state will be stable and develop,” said Bashir.

Analysts have long feared a return to civil war if disputes  are not resolved.

Southern officials said the birth of the new nation would  take place at midnight from July 8 to 9, followed by a formal  independence ceremony later on Saturday.

According to the official programme, a formal Proclamation  of the Independence of South Sudan will be read out by southern  parliament speaker James Wani Igga at 11:45 a.m. (0845 GMT).  Minutes later Sudan’s national flag will be lowered and the new  flag of South Sudan will be raised.

“At midnight, bells will be rung across the new country, and  drums will be sounded, to mark the historic transition from  southern Sudan to the Republic of South Sudan,” a statement from  the southern government said.

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