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99% vote is reported in favor of secession

JUBA, Sudan (AP) -- Southern Sudan's referendum commission said Sunday that more than 99 percent of voters in the south opted to secede from the country's north in a vote held earlier this month.

The weeklong vote, held in early January and widely praised for being peaceful and for meeting international standards, was a condition of a 2005 peace agreement that ended a north-south civil war that lasted two decades and killed 2 million people.

The head of the commission's southern bureau, Justice Chan Reec Madut, said Sunday that voter turnout in the 10 states in the south was also 99 percent. He said that only about 16,000 voters in the south chose to remain united with northern Sudan, while 3.7 million chose to separate.

If the process stays on track, Southern Sudan will become the world's newest country in July.


Officer slain in attack as 2 gunmen are killed

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) -- Gunmen attacked a police checkpoint in restive northern Nigeria on Sunday, killing a policeman and leading police to fatally shoot two of the gunmen, police said.

Police Commissioner Mohammed Abubakar said the gunmen attacked Sunday morning. He said police believe the attackers were members of a radical Muslim sect.

"One of our policemen was killed today, Sunday, while two members of the Boko Haram gunmen were also gunned down during an exchange of gunshots at the Pompomari Housing estate in Maiduguri," Abubakar said. "Our men have also killed two of the attackers whom we believe are members of the outlawed Boko Haram sect."


Congregants fill church to pray for Mandela

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Hundreds of South Africans filled a historic church Sunday morning to pray for former President Nelson Mandela after his release from a local hospital Friday.

Rev. Benedict Mahlangu, a priest at the main Catholic church in the black township of Soweto, lit a candle and asked congregants to pray for Mandela, who doctors said was treated for an acute respiratory tract infection.

More than 500 people gathered at Regina Mundi Church, a former center of anti-apartheid protests and funerals. Bullet holes in the ceiling serve as reminders of a 1976 incident when police stormed the church during an anti-apartheid protest and fired live ammunition at students.

Doctors discharged the Nobel peace laureate from the hospital Friday, and he is continuing to receive care from home.

Mandela is responding "very well" to medication and treatment, according to a statement released Sunday by Army Surgeon-General Vejaynand Ramlakan. The statement said Mandela had a "restful and peaceful night." The army is responsible for the care of former presidents in South Africa.


Arms depot blasts, fire kill 1, cause evacuation

MARACAY, Venezuela (AP) -- A fire and a series of explosions tore through a military arms depot Sunday, killing a person and leading authorities to evacuate thousands of people.

About 10,000 residents were removed to safety from areas up to several miles from the site as the burning ammunition produced powerful blasts, officials said.

The cause of the pre-dawn fire was unclear. Hours after the initial explosions, faint booms could still be heard in the distance as clouds of white smoke rose from the area alongside hills in Maracay, 60 miles west of Caracas.

"It's under control, but there is still risk," President Hugo Chavez said as he visited firefighters and other officials in Maracay. He noted that the blasts hurled some explosives such as grenades long distances into surrounding communities, and urged caution.

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