JUBA (AFP) – South Sudan’s parliament speaker on Saturday proclaimed his state’s independence on Saturday, sparking joy at the birth of the world’s newest nation and splitting Africa’s largest country in two.
“We, the democratically elected representatives of the people, based on the will of the people of South Sudan, and as confirmed by the outcome of the referendum of self-determination, hereby declare South Sudan to be an independent and sovereign nation,” James Wani Igga announced.
The independence declaration was read out in front of dozens of heads of state, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and foreign dignitaries as well as tens of thousands of cheering southerners.
South Sudan’s national flag was then raised, to wild applause, tears and song.
“We shall never, never surrender,” the crowd chanted, as people whistled and wiped tears from their eyes.
“I should cry for the recognition of this flag among the flags of the world,” shouted one tearful man.
“We have been denied our rights. Today, no more shall that happen,” he added.
The declaration affirmed the new state’s democratic and multi-ethnic and multi-confessional character, and its commitment to friendly relations with all countries “including the Republic of Sudan”, Igga said.
The parliament speaker said that as a “strategic priority,” South Sudan would seek admission to the United Nations, the African Union, the east African bloc IGAD and other international bodies.
Southern leader Salva Kiir then signed the transitional constitution and took the oath of office as the new state’s first president, swearing to “foster the development and welfare of the people of South Sudan.”
Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, the first foreign dignitary to speak, declared that his country “fully recognises” South Sudan.
Egypt, another key regional power, also officially recognised the Republic of South Sudan, Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Oraby said on his arrival in Juba for the celebrations, the official MENA news agency reported.
President Barack Obama announced that the United States formally recognised the new state.
“I am proud to declare that the United States formally recognises the Republic of South Sudan as a sovereign and independent state upon this day, July 9, 2011,” Obama said in a statement.
The head of the visiting US delegation, Susan Rice, told the people of South Sudan: “Independence is not a gift you were given, but is a prize you won.”
“We salute those who did not live to see this moment — from leaders such as Dr. John Garang, to the ordinary citizens who rest in unmarked graves. We cannot bring them back. But we can honor their memory,” she said.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon, also speaking at the ceremony in Juba, said it was an important day for the United Nations, which has been in engaged promoting peace in Sudan for many years.
“Today we open a new chapter when the people of South Sudan claim their freedom and dignity that is their birthright,” he said.
Ban commended Kiir and Bashir for the “difficult decisions and compromises” but noted key unresolved provisions of the 2005 peace agreement that ended Sudan’s devastating north-south civil war.
He called on South Sudan to build its nation, saying sovereignty was “both a right and a great responsibility.”
Ethiopia’s President Meles Zenawi said his country recognised South Sudan’s sovereignty and looked forward “to welcoming you as a full member of IGAD.”
China’s special envoy extended President Hu Jintao’s “warmest congratulations” to the “young Republic” of South Sudan, while noting the ongoing negotiations between north and south.
He said Beijing, Sudan’s main trading partner and the largest investor in its key oil industry, hoped the two sides could be “good neighbours, partners and brothers forever.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that London also recognised the new state.
The World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick also congratulated South Sudan, pledging to be “a strong partner as we help transform a day of independence into a decade of development.”