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Sudan's president threatens to expel foreign observers

Sudan's president threatened to expel foreign observers over their recommendations to delay the country's first multiparty elections in decades due in April.

The April vote - Sudan's first multiparty elections in decades - will see voters cast ballots for a national president, a southern president, local and national assemblies as well as governors.

President Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur, is running for re-election. He issued his warning while campaigning in east Sudan.

"Any foreigner or organisation that demands the delay of elections will be expelled sooner rather than later," Mr al-Bashir said in remarks carried by the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera television.

"We want them to observe the elections, but if they interfere in our affairs and demanded the delay, we will cut their fingers and put them under our shoes and expel them," he told supporters, according to his remarks carried by Al-Arabiya television website.

In a report released last week, the Atlanta-based Carter Centre, which has an election observer mission in Sudan, recommended a "minor" postponement in the vote over concerns Sudan's election commission can deliver a successful vote on time.

The centre said Sudan's first competitive elections since 1986 "remains at risk on multiple fronts" including the ability of candidates to campaign freely and the impact of delayed preparations for the complex vote.

"It is increasingly unclear if the (National Election Commission) can deliver a successful election on time," the report said.

The election commission, however, said the vote will go ahead as planned.

The Carter Centre was invited by Sudan to observe the elections and has 12 long-term observers. Other foreign observers are expected to arrive in the country before the April 11 vote.

Mr Al-Bashir's threat echoes his previous warnings to expel foreign aid groups following last year's arrest warrant against him by the ICC for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

He responded by expelling 13 large foreign aid agencies, most of them operating in Darfur, accusing them of spying for the court. The expulsions disrupted aid distribution and humanitarian work in the war-wrecked region.

Mr Al-Bashir refused to deal with the court, and decided to run for re-election, a clear attempt to boost his legitimacy at home.

The New-York based Human Rights Watch said Monday political repression, continued insecurity in Darfur and arbitrary detention of campaigners threaten prospects for a free, fair, and credible vote.

"President al-Bashir is a fugitive from justice," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "He should be in The Hague answering to charges of heinous crimes committed in Darfur, not flouting Khartoum's obligations to cooperate with the International Criminal Court."