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Latest News Last Updated: Apr 13, 2010 - 6:43:10 AM

Ex-President Carter cites problems in Sudan

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Ex-President Carter cites problems in Sudan

JUBA, Sudan Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says there are problems with the elections taking place in Sudan, but officials are working to correct them.

Carter also has welcomed the two-day extension of the vote announced by the Sudanese governments following complaints about the process. The election originally had been scheduled to end Tuesday but now will end Thursday to ensure everyone has time to participate.

Carter spoke to reporters Tuesday in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, as part of his work with the Carter Center, his vote-monitoring organization.

Sudan's first multiparty elections in almost a quarter century are part of a 2005 peace deal that ended a bloody 21-year civil war between the north and the south.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) Sudan's opposition parties accused the United States of backing the country's elections despite the deep flaws favoring the government, as officials announced Monday voting was extended for two days following complaints of problems at the polling stations.

Sudan's first multiparty elections in almost a quarter century are part of a 2005 peace deal that ended 21 years of a bloody north-south civil war and are meant to bring a democratically elected government for the impoverished country and prepare for a referendum next year over the status of the south.

Political parties and observers, however, have criticized the elections before it even started saying the process is flawed and heavily controlled by the ruling party headed by President Omar al-Bashir, who is under indictment for war crimes stemming from the conflict in the western region of Darfur.

The U.S. is one of the main sponsors of the peace deal between the north and south and has been heavily involved with the two partners to ensure the elections and the subsequent referendum, which the south wants to use to gain independence, take place.

A group of opposition parties who boycotted the voting have accused the United States of backing al-Bashir's flawed elections, in exchange for the central government allowing the referendum and the south's eventual secession to happen.

Mariam Sadiq, a senior member of the Umma party, said there is a deal to separate the north from the south by ensuring that al-Bashir wins re-election.

Al-Bashir's victory "is meant to separate the south by electing an agreed upon political figure," Sadiq said.

Farouq Abu Issa, a spokesman for the opposition groups, told a press conference in Khartoum that Washington is "seeking to manage the elections in Sudan they way they managed them in Iraq."

Speaking to reporters in Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said he would not comment on the elections until later in the week, but applauded them as part of the implementation of the peace agreement.

"Obviously, it's going to be a difficult election for Sudan to carry out. They haven't done this in a while. So we will not be surprised if there are irregularities. There's some evidence that there have been some difficulties in the first two days of voting."

"We thought it was appropriate to have this election, notwithstanding the likelihood there would be considerable difficulties," he added.

Many northerners oppose the secession of the south and fear that al-Bashir will agree to it in order to reduce the international pressure on him stemming from his indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur a vast western region where ethnic African tribes revolted in 2003 against the central government.

Sudanese election monitors, meanwhile, say that voting has not even begun in some parts of the country, particularly in the impoverished south.

There were reports that some voting stations had been moved without notice, voter registries or other crucial equipment was missing and observers were not allowed in to witness the process.

In an apparent response, the election commission said it is extending voting for two days to address reported problems delaying voter participation. Voting had been scheduled to go until Tuesday.

"The Commission has decided to extend the voting for two more days until Thursday. After reviewing some technical mistakes, the Commission has found reasons to extend the vote to allow all voters to practice their ... rights," said spokesman Salah Habib.

AlBaqir Alafif, head of one of the largest Sudanese networks monitoring the elections, said widespread irregularities have been reported since voting began, including delays in opening polling stations, faulty voters rosters and ballot papers.

He said an extension of the voting days will not remedy the faulty elections.

"This is not going to retrieve their credibility which has been lost," Alafif said.

In addition to the president, the Sudanese are electing a national assembly, local governors and parliaments and the president of the semiautonomous government of South Sudan.

Despite the boycotts, more than 14,000 candidates from 73 different parties were competing. Many of Sudan's 16 million registered voters, especially in the south, had never taken part in multiparty elections before.

In Darfur, anti-government rebels called for a boycott of the election because the western region is under a state of emergency and sporadic fighting continues.

On Monday, the U.N. African Union peacekeepers in Darfur reported four of its staff have been missing for over a day. The mission said the peacekeepers were not heard from since Sunday when they were returning to their residence from a base in southern Darfur.

El Deeb reported from Cairo. Associated Press Writer Matt Lee contributed from Washington.

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