Southern Sudan's president Sunday offered a prayer of forgiveness for northern Sudan and the killings that occurred during a two-decade civil war, as the first results from a weeklong independence referendum showed an overwhelming vote for secession.
Exhausted poll workers who counted ballots overnight and deep into Sunday morning posted returns at individual stations, and an Associated Press count of a small sample showed a 96 percent vote for secession.
Sudan's south ended its independence vote Saturday, a vote most believe will split the large country in two at the divide between Sudan's Muslim north and Christian and animist south. The two sides ended a more than two decade civil war in 2005 in a peace deal that provided for last week's vote.
If everything stays on track, by July Southern Sudan should be the world's newest nation.
At a church service Sunday, Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir -- a stoic man not known for showing emotion -- smiled, gently clapped and swayed during a service that took on a jubilant and celebratory air.
"For our deceased brothers and sisters, particularly those who have fallen during the time of the struggle, may God bless them with eternal peace and, like Jesus Christ on the cross, forgive those who have forcibly caused their death," Kiir said.
There were scattered attacks in Southern Sudan before polling began and in the contested region of Abyei, but the vote was peaceful, earning the praise of international observers and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
President Obama congratulated Sudan on the peaceful vote, in a statement Sunday.