South Sudan votes 99 percent to separate from north

South Sudan almost unanimously voted to declare independence from the north in a referendum, officials said on Sunday, sparking mass celebrations in the southern capital Juba.

Thousands cheered, danced and ululated after officials announced the first official preliminary results which overall showed a 98.83 percent majority for separation, according to the vote’s website.

“This is what we voted for, so that people can be free in their own country … I say congratulations a million times,” south Sudan President Salva Kiir told the crowd.

The vote was promised in a 2005 peace deal which ended decades of north-south conflict, Africa’s longest civil war, which cost an estimated 2 million lives.

Kiir, the head of the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), praised his former foe, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for agreeing to the 2005 accord.

“Omar al-Bashir took the bold decision to bring peace. Bashir is a champion and we must stand with him,” said Kiir, speaking in a mixture of English and the local Arabic dialect.

“The project has not finished … We cannot declare independence today,” he added.

According to the terms of the accord, south Sudan will be able to declare independence on July 9, pending any legal challenges to the results.