Huge turnout at south Sudan's independence referendum has defied gloomy expectations and is almost guaranteed to reach the 60 percent of voters needed to make the poll valid, organizers said on Tuesday.
Thousands of people took part in the third day of voting in a referendum expected to see the war-ravaged, oil-producing but poor region emerge as Africa's newest state.
The largely peaceful vote in the south has been marred by four days of clashes between Arab nomads and southerners in the contested border region of Abyei.
"It is proceeding very, very smoothly. There doesn't seem to be any fear of not reaching the 60 percent limit. As a matter of fact we think it will do a lot better than that," said the chairman of the vote's organizing commission, Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil.
Khalil, a northern lawyer based in Khartoum, told Reuters some polling centers had already received between a quarter and a half of the voters registered in their district in the first two days of the week-long vote.
The referendum was promised in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Africa's longest civil war between the mostly Muslim north and the south, where most follow Christianity and traditional beliefs.
Under the regulations, the vote needs a 60 percent turnout to be valid. More than 50 percent of voters need to choose independence for the south to secede -- seen as the most likely outcome.
Final results are due out before February 15 with preliminary figures expected up to two weeks earlier. Around 4 million people signed up to vote in the south and in diaspora communities of southerners in the north and abroad.
The organizing commission should have been set up three years ahead of the plebiscite, but wrangling between northern and southern leaders meant its members were sworn in only in July with just months to set up the historic vote.
"There were times when we thought we would not be able to get the job done. But everyone worked hard. If you come and have a look at the commission premises you will find people there all day and practically all night," said Khalil.
The commission's deputy head Chan Reek Madut told Reuters high turnouts meant organizers would probably not have to extend the voting period. "Saturday should be the last day (of voting)," he said in the southern capital Juba.