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Vote counting on after Sudan poll
Million of ballots being counted as results for first election in 24 years are awaited.
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2010 11:57 GMT
The election will set the stage for next year's referendum on the independence of the south [AFP]

Sudan has begun counting millions of ballots after five days of voting in its first multiparty elections in 24 years.

The election, which was tainted by boycotts and accusations of fraud, was extended for two days after many polling stations opened without ballot papers.

Obsververs said the election is a step forward for the oil-producing country hoping to evolve into a democracy before a referendum scheduled for next year on independence for south Sudan.

But as the election entered its final day, nine members of Sudan's ruling party were reportedly killed in a shooting while voting took place in the south of the country.

Agnes Lokudu, the head of the National Congress Party in south Sudan, blamed Thursday's shooting in Western Bahr al-Ghazal state on the region's local military.

"Three days ago at night some southern army soldiers came to the home of the president of the National Congress Party (NCP) in Raja, and killed him and eight other members of the NCP," Lokuda said.

Anger at NCP

The NCP, which dominates the north of the country, rules alongside the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) as part of a peace deal that ended civil war in 2005, but there are significant tensions between the two parties.

Lokudu said the killings were motivated by anger that many people in the area had voted for the NCP.

Parties and independents opposing the SPLM, which leads the semi-autonomous government in the south, have previously complained of arrests and harassment.

But the SPLM denied that the separate south Sudan army was involved in the incident.

special report

"This was a passionate crime to do with a wife - a feud that led to a shooting between the husband and lover," Suzanne Jambo, the head of the SPLM's external relations office, said.

"This is not political."

There has been little violence during the elections, despite tension being increased by boycotts of various parts of the process by opposition parties amid allegations of irregularities. 

The SPLM pulled out of parliamentary voting in most northern states and withdrew Yasser Arman as a candidate for the presidency. The Umma party also pulled its candidate out the presidential race.

Those decisions left little competition for Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the current president and leader of the NCP who has in power for 22 years.

Ruling party offer

Al-Bashir's supporters seemed to reach out to the opposition parties on Wednesday, saying the NCP would invite opposition groupsto join the government if it won the current elections.

"If we are declared winners in the elections ... we would extend the invitation to all parties, even those who have not participated in the elections, to join the government," Ghazi Salaheddin, a senior leader of the NCP, said.

Al-Bashir's rivals gave a mixed reaction to the offer, which did not specify what role they might play in a new government.

"Let us talk about dialogue first, how to solve Sudan's problems," Fadlalla Burma Nasir, the vice-president of the opposition Umma party, said.

The SPLM's Arman said he was not interested in the offer and levelled further accusations of fraud against the ruling party.

"This is proof that they know the results in advance," he said.

Results of the elections are not expected until April 20.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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