, OMDURMAN, Feb 14 – Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir launched his re-election bid with great fanfare on Saturday, extolling his 21 years in power and pledging to the unity of Africa\’s biggest nation.
"When we came to power, everything was lacking and people spent long hours waiting for bread and petrol, but now it\’s the bread that awaits the people," Beshir told thousands of supporters in Khartoum\’s twin city of Omdurman.
"We have done many things since coming to power, but we have not finished," Beshir added, touting the "benefits" of his economic policy.
Beshir, who backed by Islamists overthrew the democratically elected government of Sadiq al-Mahdi in 1989, also backed Sudan\’s unity in a referendum on the south\’s independence set for January 2011.
"In a year, there will be a referendum. And our programme is founded on the unity of Sudan. We will leave future generations a united Sudan, as it is currently," he said.
Beshir also accused unnamed foreign powers of working to "destroy" the peace agreement that ended a two-decade civil war in 2005 between the mainly Muslim north and mostly Christian south.
The veteran leader is sought by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Sudan\’s strife-torn Darfur region.
He faces his first real electoral test on April 11, when he is being challenged by 11 opposition candidates, among them former premier Mahdi and former rebel leader Yasser Arman, who also kicked off campaigning on Saturday.
But Beshir\’s campaign will be able to call on all the trappings of having been in power for so long.
And that was evident at his campaign launch on a massive stage inside Omdurman\’s Al-Hilal stadium on Saturday, with fireworks lighting the sky and an orchestra playing traditional music.
Posters of the Sudanese president had appeared earlier in the day along the main streets of the capital.
"Development and stability," declared the text of the posters set against a picture of Beshir and amid images of industrial projects including a large hydro-electric dam.