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South Sudan celebrates independence, swears in new president

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JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan raised the flag of its new nation for the first time Saturday, as thousands of South Sudanese citizens and dozens of international dignitaries swarmed the new country capital of Juba to celebrate the country's birth.

A South Sudanese man waves a flag during independence celebrations. (Photo: Associated Press)

South Sudan became the world's newest country Saturday with a raucous street party at midnight. At a packed midday ceremony, the speaker of parliament read a proclamation of independence as the flag of Sudan was lowered and the flag of South Sudan was raised, sparking wild cheers from a crowd tens of thousands strong.

"Hallelujah!" one resident yelled, as other onlookers wiped away tears.

The U.S. and Britain announced their recognition of South Sudan as a sovereign nation. President Barack Obama said the day was 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," Obama said in a statement. "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."

The noon-hour ceremony hosted by Salva Kiir, who was sworn in as South Sudan's president, took place under a blazing hot sun. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, a deeply unpopular man in Juba, arrived to a mixture of boos and surprised murmurs.

"Wow, this is a great day for me because it's a day that reflects the suffering that all southerners have had for almost 50 years," said David Aleu, a 24-year-old medical student.

Thousands of South Sudan residents thronged the celebration area, and organizers soon learned they did not have enough seats for all the visiting heads of state and other VIPs. The heat was strong enough that Red Cross workers attended to many people who fainted.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and the American envoy at Saturday's celebration, urged South Sudan residents and leaders to build a country worthy of the sacrifice of all the lives lost during the five decades of conflict.

"Independence was not a gift you were given. Independence is a prize you have won," she said. "Yet even on this day of jubilee we remain mindful of the challenges that await us. No true friend would offer false comfort. The path ahead will be steep... but the Republic of South Sudan is being born amid great hopes."

The black African tribes of South Sudan and the mainly Arab north battled two civil wars over more than five decades, and some 2 million died in the latest war, from 1983-2005. It culminated in a 2005 peace deal that led to Saturday's independence declaration

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