KHARTOUM — US envoy to Sudan Scott Gration said on Saturday he was confident the country's first general elections since 1986 would be as "free and fair as possible" and would start on time on April 11.
Gration was speaking to reporters in Khartoum after meeting members of the electoral commission, which earlier Saturday dismissed calls by opposition candidates for a delay in the April 11-13 general elections.
"They (electoral commission members) have given me confidence that the elections will start on time and they would be as free and as fair as possible," said Gration.
"These people have gone to great lengths to ensure that the people of Sudan will have access to polling places and that the procedures and processes will ensure transparency," he said.
Sudan's electoral commission meanwhile insisted the vote would go ahead on schedule despite threats of boycotts by opposition parties.
"The electoral commission ensures that the elections will take place as envisioned, on April 11 to 13," commission official Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah told reporters.
A raft of parties, including the Umma party of former premier Sadiq al-Mahdi, on Friday gave the government four days to implement key reforms before they would agree to take part in the poll, which they insisted be delayed until May.
The Umma party demanded a freeze to what it said were "repressive security measures" and fair access to the state media, as well as public funding and a commitment to Darfuri representation in the presidency.
One party, the Democratic Unionist Party, said it was only pulling out of the presidential elections, in which President Omar al-Beshir, in power since a 1989 coup, seeks another term, but would contest the parliamentary and regional elections being held at the same time.
Three opposition parties, including that of Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, have not withdrawn from the elections.
Beshir on Saturday also ruled out a delay and accused the opposition of seeking to overthrow the ruling party, in a campaign speech in the northern town of Kassala.
"There will be no delay and no cancellation," he said in the speech broadcast by Sudanese television.
US State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley had said that the opposition had "legitimate concerns" over the poll but "we are still aiming for the election to occur on April 11."
On Wednesday, Yasser Arman, the presidential candidate for the former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement, withdrew from race after Beshir ruled out delaying the vote.
"I took the decision to withdraw for two reasons. Firstly, after having campaigned in Darfur, I realised that it was impossible to hold elections there due to the current state of emergency," he told AFP.
"Secondly, there are irregularities in the electoral process which is rigged."
Arman said, however, that the SPLM will field candidates in regional and legislative elections "across Sudan, except for Darfur."
Access remains difficult in Darfur, where 300,000 people have died since 2003 in a war between ethnic rebels and the Khartoum government.
Beshir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes in the region.
Human Rights Watch has said Sudanese government repression of its opponents and the media was threatening the chances of the elections being "free, fair, and credible."
Britain -- Sudan's former colonial power -- and Norway, a main provider of aid, joined the United States in expressing concern over the polls.
Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir is on course to retain power in national elections after the country's main opposition parties announced a total boycott of this month's polls, blaming concerns over alleged fraud.
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