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Praising God, the world’s newest nation raised its flag for the first time Saturday, rejoicing that 20 years of war are apparently over.

“We have reclaimed our permanent home given to us by God as our birthright,” proclaimed Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan. “Never again shall South Sudanese be oppressed for their political beliefs. Never again shall our people be discriminated [against] on account of race or religion. Never again shall we roam the world as sojourners and refugees.”

Official ceremonies began with the singing of the country’s new national anthem, which begins, “Oh God, we praise and glorify you for your grace on South Sudan.”

“After enduring two decades of warfare and the deaths of 2 million people, the Republic of South Sudan saw its day of independence,” reported Charles Braddix and Zoe Allen for Baptist Press. “Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Juba, the new nation’s capital, as they heard Kiir, declare the southern region of Sudan free and independent of the north.”

South Sudan’s official declaration of independence was read out at 1:25 p.m., followed by Kiir being sworn in as the new nation’s president.

“The division between the north and the south is sharp,” noted the Baptist Press writers. “The north is arid, Arab and Muslim, while the south has many varieties of vegetation, is black African and is predominantly Christian and animistic.”

“As we bask in the glory of nationhood,” said Kiir, “I call upon all South Sudanese to put the long and sad history of war, hardship and loss behind them and open a new chapter of peace and reconciliation in our lives.”

With elaborate ceremony, the flag of Sudan was lowered and the new flag of South Sudan was raised. South Sudan is now the world’s newest nation, raising the global number to 196, and the African continent’s 54th nation-state.

Among the many dignitaries on hand Saturday were former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who played a key role in the 2005 peace agreement to end Sudan’s civil war, and Susan Rice, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations.

“Independence is not a gift that you were given,” Rice said. “Independence is a prize that you have won.”

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