KHARTOUM (Agencies) - Early results from Southern Sudan's referendum indicated the region has voted overwhelmingly to split from the north and form a new country. Full results of the poll are not due until next month, but the region is widely expected to choose to secede. Southern Sudanese people living in Europe have already voted 97 per cent in favour of a new state. The historic referendum was part of a peace agreement signed with north Sudan in 2005, ending decades of war. Polling stations opened on January 9 and were officially closed on Saturday evening. A minimum 60 per cent turnout was required for the vote to be considered valid, a target which had easily been passed by the middle of the week. Chairman of the Southern Sudanese Referendum Commission Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil has said more than 80 per cent of eligible voters in the south had cast their ballots, along with 53 per cent in the north and 91 per cent of voters living in the eight other countries hosting polling stations. He said the referendum would be considered 'a good result by any international standard. News agencies reported a 95 per cent turnout at 10 sites in Juba, which would be the capital of a future Southern Sudan. A sample suggested that 96 per cent had voted in favour of secession. Southern Sudanese people living in Australia have been given extra time to cast their votes where severe flooding has hampered the process. International observers in Southern Sudan have been almost universally optimistic, saying the balloting process has been free and fair. The process was marred, however, by a deadly attack on a convoy of South Sudanese civilians earlier this week. The group were returning home to vote when they were ambushed near the north-south border in the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei. The UN's Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has praised 'all the people of Sudan for the display of wisdom, patience, and peaceful determination that has characterised the voting over the last week. But he warned that Southern Sudanese must continue to 'exercise patience and restraint while the count is carried out. Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has promised to accept the results of the poll either way, even if it meant the partition of Africa's largest nation. "The referendum took place in an atmosphere of calm with a great degree of freedom and fairness," Rabie Abdul Ati, a senior official in Mr Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP), told reporters. "It is very clear that the party will accept the result whether it be for unity or secession." The referendum was agreed as part of the 2005 deal to end the two-decade civil war between Southern and North Sudan.