10 Jan 2011

Southern Sudanese turn out for independence vote

6:58 am on 10 January 2011

Large numbers of voters have turned out across southern Sudan on the first day of a referendum which is expected result in Africa's largest country being split in two.

The poll was agreed as part of the 2005 peace deal which ended the two-decade civil war between the north and the south of the country, the BBC reports.

As polls closed on the first day, a spokesperson for the organising commission said there had been some clashes between rebels and Sudanese troops in Unity state.

But the head of the European Union's observer team, Veronique de Keyser, said the start of voting had generally been very well organised, and people are queuing quietly at polling stations.

"What I observed this morning was very moving, in the sense that you can feel in the crowd the expectation of the people," she said.

Voting had been due to end at 5pm local time but polling was extended in many polling stations in the southern capital Juba because of the long queues.

Southern Sudan has high levels of illiteracy so voters are faced with two symbols on the ballot paper - a single hand for independence or two clasped hands to remain one country.

The referendum continues until 15 January.