Southern Sudan Votes, Could Spawn New Nation

Referendum to end decades of sectarian violence
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2011 6:06 AM CST
A Kenyan policeman, center, walks as Southern Sudanese line up to cast their ballots for Southern Sudan's independence referendum outside a polling station in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011.   (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)

(Newser) – Millions flock to the polls in southern Sudan today for a historic election that could give birth to a new nation, reports the Washington Post. The nation's 22-year-old civil war ended in 2005 with some 2 million casualties, but the violence continued, made worse by a sectarian divide, with the north dominated by Arab Islam and the south mostly Christian. More than 60% of the 3.9 million registered voters need to vote for today's referendum to be valid. "This vote is about gaining our freedom," said one voter. "It's about gaining our dignity. It's about ending our slavery."

For Sudan's current government in Khartoum, however, the challenges caused by this secession will be immense—southern Sudan represents one-third of the country's land, one-quarter of its population, and a majority of its precious oil supplies. "We have an unfolding humanitarian crisis layered on top of an existing and forsaken one," said the southern Sudan director of an American relief agency, adding "there's the potential for mass displacement, an upsurge in political and ethnic violence and a larger-scale humanitarian emergency."

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