Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom - along with England, Wales and Northern Ireland - following a historic referendum vote.
A majority of voters rejected the possibility of Scotland breaking away and becoming an independent nation.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed Scotland's decision in a televised statement outside 10 Downing Street, saying it was a clear result.
"Like millions of other people, I am delighted," he said.
Cameron said he would have been heartbroken to see the United Kingdom broken up - but paid tribute to the efforts of both sides in the campaign.
"We hear you," he said to those who voted for independence, adding this was an opportunity to change the way people in the United Kingdom are governed, and "change it for the better."
His government has delivered on devolution in the past and will deliver on it again, Cameron said.
A "new and fair settlement" will be created for Scotland and the other countries of the United Kingdom, he said.
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Scotland's voters are heading to the polls Thursday to cast their ballots in the country's landmark independence referendum.
There, they will face a straightforward yes/no question: Should Scotland be an independent country?
More than 4.2 million people have registered to vote, the largest electorate ever in Scotland, and turnout in the referendum is expected to be high.
A vote for independence would mean Scotland, with its population of about 5.3 million, splits from the rest of the United Kingdom, made up of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Voting can take place from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. local time (2 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET) at more than 5,500 polling stations across 32 districts nationwide, from the remote highlands and islands to the big cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Voting was brisk at one polling station in Glasgow as the polls opened, with many people voting on the way to work or before taking their children to school.
Results from the different areas will come in overnight into Friday morning local time, with Chief Counting Officer Mary Pitcaithly expected to announce the outcome "around breakfast time."
Bad weather or the sheer volume of votes cast could slow down the counting process. However, the weather forecast appears good so far - important when some ballot boxes must be collected by helicopter, plane or boat from polling stations on distant islands.
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Iraq's vice president issued a decree Thursday calling for parliament to meet next week to start the process of creating a new government as the Iraqi military battles Sunni extremist militants.
Vice President Khader al Khuzaei, acting on behalf of Iraq's President, made the directive amid calls for political action to tackle sectarian tensions that have fueled violence as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, advances toward Baghdad.
On Thursday evening, seven people were killed and 36 others injured in an explosion in the capital's northern neighborhood of Kadimiyah, Iraqi police told CNN. There were conflicting reports about whether a suicide bomber or car bomb was responsible.
In a televised speech this week, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki vowed to stick to a Tuesday deadline to begin creating a new government. But the Iraqi leader also spent time in Wednesday's TV address accusing Sunnis of "coordinating" the crisis.
Al-Maliki accused Sunnis of collaborating with ISIS and blasted a call to have a national salvation government that would remove him from power.
He also appealed to Shiites by saying he is adhering to the wishes of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the religious leader who called for volunteers to support the Iraqi army and government.
Many have accused al-Maliki of marginalizing Iraq's Sunni and Kurd minorities in favor of his fellow Shiites.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday played down al-Maliki's rejection of a salvation government, saying it wasn't something the United States had talked to him about specifically.
To the contrary, he said, al-Maliki is committed to the electoral process and creation of a new government that the United States has supported.
"And he (is) committed to moving forward with the constitutional processes of government formation, and that is precisely what the United States was encouraging," Kerry said. "He also called on all Iraqis to put aside their differences, to unite in their efforts against terrorism."
After talks Thursday in Paris with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, Kerry said the two agreed they want to see the formation of an Iraqi government "as rapidly as possible that represents unity for the country."
Kerry said he and the French diplomat are also deeply concerned about the challenge of Syria.
Fabius said that ISIS had shown "terrible ferocity and brutality" and that Iraq must unite to combat it.
"It's a necessity not only for Iraq but the whole region. Because it's a menace for Iraq, for the region, for Europe and the United States as well," he said.
Kerry will meet Friday in Saudi Arabia with Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba, a senior State Department official said Thursday.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, on a visit to Baghdad on Thursday, also urged the swift formation of an inclusive government, saying Iraqi political leaders must put sectarian division aside.
"The Iraqi state is facing an existential threat, with huge ramifications for the future stability and freedom of this country," he said. "The single most important factor that will determine whether or not Iraq overcomes this challenge is political unity."
Hague said this would be the focus of his discussions with al-Maliki and Kurdish regional leader Masoud Barzani.
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An audio recording purportedly from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria promises more fighting in more Iraqi cities, including Baghdad.
"Continue your march as the battle is not yet raging," a voice said to be that of ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani says on the message posted early Thursday (last Wednesday night ET) on the group's media website.
"It will rage in Baghdad and Karbala. So be ready for it."
CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the audio or time and date of its recording, which is nearly 17 minutes long.
"Don't give up a hand's width of ground you've liberated," the voice says in apparent encouragement of ISIS fighters.
The message, if authentic, is further proof that the militant group are not content with control of the places they have already taken over - and are setting their sights higher.
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