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South Sudan Celebrates Independence

South Sudan men celebrate independence at a ceremony in Juba.

South Sudan celebrated its independence day Saturday with a flag-raising and a swearing-in ceremony for the new president in the capital Juba.

A party that started at midnight carried on into Saturday at a ceremony celebrating South Sudan’s first day as an independent nation.

Crowds packed John Garang Mausoleum in the capital Juba as military bands and police battalions marched past a grandstand packed with foreign dignitaries and members of the international organizations that play a leading role helping the developing nation.

South Sudan At A Glance

  • Total Population is 8.26 million

  • Total Area is 644,329 sq. km

  • More than 51 percent of the population is under age 18

  • 72 percent of the population is under age 30

  • 83 percent of the population is rural

  • 27 percent of the adult population is literate

  • 51 percent of the population lives in poverty

  • 78 percent of households depend on crop or livestock farming for income

  • 55 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water

    Click here for more S. Sudan facts

But despite the festive atmosphere, there were constant reminders that the country was being born into poverty.

Newly sworn-in President Salva Kiir delivered a sobering message. “All the indexes of human welfare put us at the bottom of all humanity. All citizens of this nation must therefore fully dedicate their energies and resources to the construction of a vibrant economy," he said.

After decades of civil war that left more than two million people dead, the country faces significant challenges. The majority of the population lives on a dollar a day and lack access to basic health care.

At the same time, the country remains in conflict with its northern neighbor, the Republic of Sudan.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was on hand Saturday as the Sudanese flag was lowered and the South Sudanese flag was raised for the first time.

When he was first introduced, the crowds of South Sudanese, who have regarded the north as their enemy, gave reluctant applause. Nobody was sure what he would say.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir displays the transitional constitution of the Republic of South Sudan after signing it into law during the Independence Day celebrations in the capital Juba, July 9, 2011
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir displays the transitional constitution of the Republic of South Sudan after signing it into law during the Independence Day celebrations in the capital Juba, July 9, 2011

Then, at the start of his speech he recognized Salva Kiir as president of the new Republic of South Sudan.

Mr. Bashir went on to pledge further cooperation with the south, emphasizing that the two countries rely on each other economically.

But, in one of the strongest statements of the day, it was U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who pointed out that the north and south are still engaged in real conflict. “In recent weeks we have seen new violence and human suffering inflamed by potentially dangerous rhetoric. So today let this be a moment for north and south to declare unequivocally that they remain committed to addressing the unfinished business of the comprehensive peace agreement," he said.

The secretary general’s comments come days after President Bashir walked away from talks in Ethiopia aimed at ending ongoing fighting in South Kordofan State. Mr. Bashir has also insisted that the United Nations remove all peacekeeping forces from his country.

The United Nations recently agreed to establish a peacekeeping force for South Sudan that will replace the current mission.

The head of the U.S. delegation, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, said the United States will continue to be an honest friend to South Sudan. “No true friend would offer false comfort. The path ahead will be steep and sometimes pitted. But the Republic of South Sudan is being born amid great hopes," she said.

While the term “birth of a nation” may be overused, it does describe the common sentiment about South Sudan among the international community. It is a country that is brand new, that will need a lot of help developing, but for which there is still great hope.

View the timeline of the world's newest nation - Republic of South Sudan

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.