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JUBA — 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.

‘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.

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.

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