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Sudan's election marred by delays, boycott

KHARTOUM – Agence France-Presse | 4/11/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir voted in the first multi-party polls of his two-decade rule, but the election was marred by an opposition boycott, fraud allegations and logistical problems.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir voted on Sunday in the first multi-party polls of his two-decade rule, but the election was marred by an opposition boycott, fraud allegations and logistical problems.

Al-Bashir, wearing a traditional white robe and turban, raised his index finger to show the voting ink and shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) after casting his ballot at the St. Francis school in central Khartoum.

More than 16 million registered voters are asked to vote in over 10,700 polling stations for their president as well as legislative and local representatives. Southern Sudanese will also vote for the leader of the semi-autonomous government of south Sudan.

Polling stations for the three-day vote opened on schedule in Khartoum at 08:00 (0500 GMT) but election organisers in several areas were still unwrapping ballot boxes as the queues began to form, an AFP correspondent said. Streets of the capital were quiet as the polls got off to a slow start. By midday (0900 GMT) several voting stations had not yet opened, according to witnesses.

Some women waited around in classrooms of a school in Khartoum until logistical problems were resolved. "I am frustrated. I arrived a little before 08:00 thinking that everything would be ready but that is not the case" Safaa, a 24-year-old who came to vote with her mother, told AFP. "This is also the first time I am voting. The last election, in 1986, I was out of the country," said her mother Siham, dressed in traditional "thobe", a long colorful fabric that drapes around the body.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Centre is monitoring the vote, said that despite the snags, voting was proceeding smoothly. "I believe the national election commission has done a good job although there might be some slow delivery of material but they have three days to correct that," he told reporters.

The leader of the former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement, or SPLM, is running against former foreign minister Lam Akol for the leadership of the semi-autonomous government of south Sudan. Al-Bashir, who has ruled Africa's largest country since 1989 when he came to power in a military coup backed by Islamists, is expected to secure a comfortable win after the pullout of his key challengers.

Yasser Arman, a northern Muslim representing the SPLM, and former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi of the Umma Party both withdrew from the race before polling day. They accuse Beshir of fraud and say free and fair conditions for the elections are not in place, particularly in Darfur, the western region under a state of emergency since civil war broke out seven years ago.

In March 2009, Beshir became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court. His alleged crimes against humanity in Darfur include murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape, and two counts of war crimes: attacks against civilians and pillaging. Darfur rebel movements, who control parts of the vast region, have firmly rejected the elections but have so far not stated any intentions to derail the process.

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