Nearby, workers toiled to ready the main venue, at the mausoleum of John Garang. The southern rebel leader was killed only months after a 2005 peace deal ended decades of brutal conflict with Khartoum and opened the door to eventual nationhood.

*”I feel so happy for getting my independence; that is why I am working here,”* said Jhawawar Dawson, 28, who had volunteered to help prepare the site of the official independence celebrations.

*”I want to welcome all the nations that are coming to celebrate this event and show the best of our country,”* he added.

Information minister Baranaba Marial Benjamin insisted the preparations were in place for Saturday, when millions of southern Sudanese, and foreign dignitaries, including 30 African leaders, will mark the birth of the world’s newest nation.

Church bells are due to ring out at midnight on Friday.

The main ceremony will include military parades, prayers, the raising of the newly proclaimed Republic of South Sudan’s flag and the country’s first president, Salva Kiir, signing the transitional constitution.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in south Sudan’s bustling capital on Friday, while South African President Jacob Zuma is expected to meet Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum before flying south.

The Sudanese leader, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, confirmed on Thursday that he would attend the independence ceremony, and said he wanted to see a southern state that is stable and secure.

Southern officials have said he will be the chief guest of honour.

But French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who is due to arrive on Saturday morning, said he would try to avoid an encounter with Bashir by remaining among other international dignitaries such as British Foreign Minister William Hague.

*”Just because Bashir is there does not mean that we should not show our support”* at the independence ceremony, he said on Thursday.

South Sudan’s celebrations come after more than 50 years of conflict between the southern rebels and successive Khartoum governments that left the region in ruins, millions of people dead and a legacy of mutual mistrust.

The 2005 comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) that finally ended the conflict, and which was signed under intense pressure from foreign countries, particularly the United States, Britain and Norway, paved the way for a referendum on southern independence in January.

Around 99 percent of southerners voted to split from the north.

Among the US delegation flying to Juba are Susan Rice, the country’s ambassador to the UN, Colin Powell, former secretary of state and a key figure in CPA negotiations, and US envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman.