South Sudan's independence vote ends

Election officials empty ballot boxes in Juba. Photo: 15 January 2011
Image caption Final results are not expected before next month

Voting has ended in Sudan in the south's historic independence referendum, with a large turnout for the week-long poll.

The vote is widely expected to see the south choose overwhelmingly for separation from the north.

The referendum was a condition of a 2005 peace deal which ended a 21-year civil war.

Official results of the vote - which was largely peaceful - are not expected until early next month.

'We are free'

Polling stations closed in Sudan at 1800 local time (1500 GMT) on Saturday.

Southern Sudanese Christian Bishop Paul Yugusk played what he called the "final trumpet" on the rule by the mainly Muslim north.

"I chose this day to close it with a trumpet, and this trumpet marking... the end of slavery, domination, and - overall - we are free," the bishop said in the southern capital of Juba.

Turnout was extremely high for the vote, with the referendum commission chairman saying that by the close of polling on Friday some 83% of the registered voters cast their ballots in the south.

Many of those were in the first few days, with giant queues snaking for hundreds of metres around polling stations.

However, in recent days it was a quieter affair, with just a few people trickling in, the BBC's Peter Martell in Juba reports.

About 53% of the eligible voters turned out in the north.

Reports from international observers have been almost universally optimistic, saying that so far the vote has been free and fair.

That has come as massive relief to the south, for whom this vote means so much, our correspondent says.

A senior official from Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's National Congress Party said on Saturday that Khartoum would accept the outcome of the vote even if it meant partition of Africa's largest nation.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

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