Sudan: President threatens to expel election observers
Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, has warned foreign election observers that his government "will cut off their fingers and put them under our shoes" if they urge the country to delay next month's elections. Bashir, who is seeking to win another term in the 11 April polls, was responding to a statement issued last week by observers from the US-based Carter Centre, which said a minor postponement may be required to address logistical difficulties. The vote is scheduled to be the first competitive election in Sudan in 24 years.
"Any foreigner or organisation that demands the delay of elections will be expelled sooner rather than later," Bashir said while campaigning in east Sudan yesterday. "We want them to observe the elections, but if they interfere in our affairs and demand the delay, we will cut off their fingers and put them under our shoes and expel them."
The presidential, parliamentary and local elections are a key requirement of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the 21-year civil war between Bashir's government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in southern Sudan. The polls are also the final major milestone before a referendum on independence for southern Sudan in January next year, which is guaranteed under the peace deal and is likely to see the country split in two.
Bashir, who took power in a coup in 1989 and has all the power of a military regime behind him, is heavily favoured to win re-election. A strong victory would bolster his claims of legitimacy and provide some security against the international criminal court, which has indicted him for alleged war crimes in Darfur.
His biggest challenge from the other 11 presidential candidates is expected to come from Yasir Arman, of the SPLM, which currently rules the autonomous southern Sudan. The SPLM is also eager to avoid any delay in the election, since that could push back the referendum – and thus its claim to be the government of the world's newest country.
But numerous smaller parties say a postponement is necessary to address the security situation in Darfur as well as political and legal issues, which they say favour Bashir unfairly. Human Rights Watch has also criticised the election build-up, saying that repression of opponents by Bashir's ruling National Congress party in the north and the SPLM in the south, as well as media restrictions in both places, seriously threatens prospects for a "free, fair and credible vote".
The Carter Centre, which was founded by the former US president Jimmy Carter and has been observing election preparations in Sudan since February 2008, has not responded to Bashir's comments. In its statement last week, its observers said that besides the logistical issues, the inability of some candidates to campaign freely meant that the election process "remains at risk on multiple fronts".
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 March 2010 15.18 GMT
Xan Rice in Nairobi