KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- Sudanese opposition parties threatened on Wednesday to boycott their country's first multiparty election in a quarter century, saying fair contests were not possible.
Over a dozen northern opposition parties met and delayed their final decision over boycotting the April 11 vote until Thursday to agree on a unified position.
The opposition maintains that overwhelming government control of the media and election monitoring bodies as well as biased legislation make a fair vote impossible.
The United States, Norway and Britain also expressed worry Wednesday in Washington about reports of restrictions on political freedoms, saying in a statement that all parties must make sure peaceful and credible elections are held next month.
The junior partner in the governing coalition, the southern Sudan People's Liberation Party, said it would back the opposition's decision -- throwing its relations with the president's party into jeopardy.
The elections are a crucial step in the 2005 north-south peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war and paves the way for a referendum when southerners would decide whether they will opt for secession from the Muslim-dominated north.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir already struck back threatening to cancel the south's cherished referendum in which they hope to become an independent state.
"If they (the south) say there will be no elections, we will say there will be no referendum -- will they accept this?" he said in a rally Monday.
Pagan Amum, the secretary general of the southern SPLM, told the Associated Press Wednesday that al-Bashir's threats are "unacceptable."
"He should be advised to cease to make such statements. It impacts the country's image and his own," Amum said. "Self-determination was not a gift ... The southern Sudanese people have the capacity to defend themselves and their referendum."
Some 2 million people died during the war. It is separate from the Darfur conflict which erupted in 2003 and has left 300,000 people dead. No comprehensive peace deal has been reached for Darfur.
In an apparent fence-mending tactic, Amum said his party was not calling for a postponement but was asking al-Bashir to consider the northern opposition demands.
Al-Bashir's National Congress Party has been accused by the opposition of using state resources in campaigns, limiting others' access to the media and controlling the national election commission.
International observers have said all signs point to a flawed process with the election commission overseeing the process unlikely to deliver a free, fair and timely process.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group in a report issued Tuesday said the ruling party is taking all measures to win the elections in a desperate effort to legitimize al-Bashir, who is wanted by an international court for committing war crimes in Darfur.
"Because of the fundamentally flawed process, the international community ... should acknowledge that whoever wins will likely lack legitimacy," and prepare for the next steps to ensure a peaceful referendum (in the south) and peace in Darfur.
Also, the northern opposition parties are divided over the boycott and appear ill-prepared to lodge a real challenge to the NCP. Over a dozen, out of 72 parties taking part in the elections, are considering the boycott.
Sadiq al-Mahdi, presidential candidate and the last democratically elected prime minister, said it is in Sudan's interest to postpone the elections to fix laws obstructing free elections, and he warned of postelection violence.
But he said his party may decide to participate now that a delay seems unlikely.
"I think that 50 percent fairness is enough for us to have impressive results," he told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper Wednesday.