THE 6th East African Nation BORN
Thousands of South Sudanese danced through the night to mark the first hours of their independence on Saturday, a hard-won separation from the north that also plunged the fractured region into a new period of uncertainty.
The Republic of South Sudan, an under-developed oil producer, became the world's newest nation on the stroke of midnight.
It won its independence in a January referendum — the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the north.
Security forces at first tried to control the dusty streets of the southern capital Juba, but retreated as jubilant crowds moved in waving flags, dancing and chanting "South Sudan o-yei, freedom o-yei."
Image: Map of Sudan
After the sun came up, thousands poured onto the site of the day's independence ceremony — a possible headache for officials keen to guard dignitaries including the President of Sudan, the south's old civil war foe, Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
In a statement, President Barack Obama said he was "proud" to formally recognize the Republic of South Sudan "as a sovereign and independent state," NBC News reported.
A 'dream realized'
He recalled Martin Luther King reflecting on the first moment of independence on the African continent in Ghana.
"I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment," the president quoted King as saying.
Obama said that now, decades later, "we are moved by the story of struggle that led to this time of hope in South Sudan, and we think of those who didn't live to see their dream realized."
"Today is a reminder that after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible. A proud flag flies over Juba and the map of the world has been redrawn. These symbols speak to the blood that has been spilled, the tears that have been shed, the ballots that have been cast, and the hopes that have been realized by so many millions of people," he said.
Obama said many Americans had been "deeply moved by the aspirations of the Sudanese people, and support for South Sudan extends across different races, regions, and political persuasions in the United States."
Years of war have flooded South Sudan with weapons.
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In a possible sign of the South's new allegiances, the crowd included about 200 supporters of Darfur rebel leader Abdel Wahed al-Nur, whose forces are fighting Khartoum in an eight-year insurgency just over South Sudan's border in the north.
The supporters of Nur's rebel Sudan Liberation Army faction stood in a line chanting "Welcome, welcome new state," wearing T-shirts bearing their leader's image. One carried a banner reading "El Bashir is wanted dead or alive."
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Traditional dance groups drummed and waved shields and staffs in a carnival atmosphere.
"I am very pleased," said Joma Cirilow, 47, his hand on his son's shoulder. "Do you want to be a second-class citizen? No, I want to be a first-class citizen in my own country."
'Join the nations of the world'
Christian priests in full robes blessed the ceremony site in central Juba where a large statue stood draped in a flag near the mausoleum of the south's civil war hero John Garang.
"Today we raise the flag of South Sudan to join the nations of the world. A day of victory and celebration," Pagan Amum, the secretary general of the South's ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) told Reuters.
"Free at last," said Simon Agany, 34, as he walked around shaking hands. "Coming away from the north is total freedom."
North Sudan's Khartoum government was the first to recognize the new state on Friday, hours before the formal split took place, a move that smoothed the way to the division of what was, until Saturday, Africa's largest country.