JUBA, Sudan – Sudan will split into two countries later this year, officials announced Sunday, marking the climax of a decade-long peace process meant to end 50 years of conflict in Africa’s largest country. But political protests raised questions about the north’s stability.

Southerners celebrated their upcoming independence with dancing, but anti-government protesters in the north clashed with police, reflecting a wave of popular anger that has swept across the Arab world in recent weeks.

Student-led demonstrations against Omar al Bashir’s regime in Sudan’s northern capital, Khartoum, are the latest protests against authoritarian governments that began with Tunisia and have since spread to Egypt and Yemen.

Southern Sudan voted 99.57 percent for separation in the Jan. 9-15 referendum on independence, officials announced Sunday in Juba, the southern capital. Added to a smaller pool of southern Sudanese voters living in the northern region and across the globe, the final tally for separation is 98.83 percent, according to the referendum commission’s website.

“These results lead to a change of situation, that’s the emergence of two states instead of one state,” Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, head of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, announced in Juba.

Upon hearing the final results, the southern Sudanese attendees jumped up from their chairs, cheering and waving their arms in the air, until a moderator urged them to let the proceedings continue.

“People have been struggling for so long. Everything was death,” said Reec Agok, a 27-year old businessman. “Now I’m so happy, the words won’t even come out.”

The referendum was the core provision of a U.S.-brokered 2005 peace deal that ended the second of two long civil wars between Sudan’s mostly Muslim Arab-ruled north, and its non-Muslim and ethnic African south. More than 2 million people died in the wars, mostly southerners, and more than twice that number were displaced.

With the referendum nearing, tension had remained high between Sudan’s northern government under Bashir and the former rebels in the south. World leaders feared that the vote could bring the country back to civil war.

These concerns have subsided as Bashir, under heavy international pressure, promised to recognize the result and the referendum began on time with few incidents.

“What is left (is) just formalities,” said Salva Kiir, leader of southern Sudan, congratulating his people for choosing independence. “You have already said it and done it.”


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