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SNAP ANALYSIS-Sudan's troubled elections open up new challenges

KHARTOUM, April 26 (Reuters) - Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the world's only sitting leader wanted by The Hague, secured a solid win on Monday in national elections marred by opposition boycotts and accusations of fraud.

Election officials said Bashir, who took power in a coup in 1989, won 68 percent of the presidential vote.

The full results will likely leave Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP) dominating the national parliament, with the main counterweight coming from the former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which is expected to win most votes in the oil-producing south.

Below is some analysis of what may come next.

THE NEXT CHALLENGE

* Bashir's victory will enrage many disgusted with his record during the seven-year conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region, which led the International Criminal Court to order his arrest. But the West will have to find ways to engage with him in the build-up to an even more dangerous vote.

Sudan is eight months away from a referendum giving the people of its largely autonomous south the choice whether to split off as an independent country, guaranteed under the 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of north-south civil war.

* Washington and other powers will try to accentuate the positive and describe the elections as an important step forward in Sudan's tortuous transformation into a democracy. They will urge Sudan's northern and southern leaders to switch their attention to the referendum.

* Analysts have warned there is a risk of a return to conflict if preparations for the plebiscite falter. Most accept that southerners, embittered by the war, want independence. Bashir says he will try to persuade the oil-producing south to stay united with the north.

* Both sides need to agree on a host of contentious issues before the referendum. Those include the position of the north- south border and the sharing out of revenues from oil, largely found in the south, but transported through northern pipelines to the Red Sea.

* According to the 2005 accord, the NCP and SPLM will form a coalition national government in the lead-up to the referendum. International sources say the south is likely to send a second-string team to fill ministerial posts in Khartoum, while its big hitters stay in the south to prepare for independence.

* Observers will be watching how more moderate members of the NCP, including second vice president Ali Osman Taha, fare in the new government. Taha was one of the main architects of the 2005 north-south peace deal, so any demotion could signal a more aggressive northern stance towards the south.

REACTION TO THE ELECTIONS

* International elections observers, who have already said the polls failed to meet international standards, will likely release still harsher reports on the confused periods of voting and ballot-counting in coming days.

So far they have stopped short of saying the results will be invalid. But there have been new concerns over a decision by Sudan's National Elections Commission to stop entering results into a failsafe computer system and instead record them manually, opening the door to errors and fraud.

* There are worries of unrest in southern states where independent candidates lost out to SPLM leaders. At least two people have already died in clashes in Unity State, home to some of the operations of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, dominated by China's state-owned CNPC, and the White Nile Petroleum Operating Company, led by Malaysia's Petronas [PETR.UL].

* Opposition parties in the north and south will repeat their accusations of widespread vote rigging and intimidation by the two main parties. Any public protests will likely be dealt with decisively by security services.

DARFUR

* Bashir's supporters say the president's strong performance in the three states of Sudan's Darfur region will undermine international charges that he masterminded war crimes in the western territory.

Bashir's election win gives him no extra legal protection against the charges laid against him by the ICC prosecutor.

* Bashir was holding troubled talks with two Darfur rebel groups before the elections. Some analysts fear he will be emboldened by his win to launch another military campaign. (Editing by Giles Elgood)

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