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Sudan's Government Rejects Calls for Election Delay

The first general election in Sudan since 1986 will take place as scheduled in little more than a week, despite opposition demands for a delay and increasing threats of a boycott.

The local, parliamentary and presidential vote is set to begin April 11 and last three days. It is required under a 2005 agreement that ended the two-decades-long civil war between Sudan's northern and southern regions.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Saturday endorsed a decision by the country's elections commission that the election will take place on the dates specified. During a campaign speech in the northeastern town of Kassala, Mr. Bashir insisted there would be "no delay, no cancellation."

U.S. envoy Scott Gration, on a visit to Khartoum, told reporters Saturday he is confident the election will be as free and fair as possible. But foreign ministers from the United States, Britain and Norway issued a statement Friday expressing concern about the poll. They cited reports of continued administrative and logistical challenges.

Opposition leaders accuse the Sudanese government of repressive security measures that have prevented fair access to the media. They say the election is rigged in favor of President Bashir.

Among those boycotting the election is Yasser Arman, the candidate of Sudan's People's Liberation Movement. Arman was seen as a top challenger to Mr. Bashir.

The president sees the election as an opportunity to legitimize his rule. He has been in power since a coup in 1989 and is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes committed in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have died in Darfur since 2003, in a conflict between ethnic rebels and the Khartoum government.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.