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5930: Haiti on Edge Awaiting Sunday Presidential Vote (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Friday November 24 4:24 PM ET
Haiti on Edge Awaiting Sunday Presidential Vote By Jim Loney

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - A spate of violence had Haiti's capital
on edge on Friday, two days before a national election that was
expected to return Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first freely elected
 leader, to the presidency. A 14-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl were
killed when bombs exploded across Port-au-Prince on Wednesday and
Thursday, sending people in this teeming city scurrying for cover.
 Angry residents burned tires in the streets to protest the deaths.
Friday traffic was much lighter than usual, public and private schools
were closed and some businesses shut down. Election officials said
nearly 12,000 polling stations across this Caribbean nation of 7.8
million people were ready for voters on Sunday. Some four million voters
were registered but authorities did not want to guess at the possible
turnout, particularly with the recent street violence believed to be
aimed at keeping people from the polls.Everything is ready now,'' said
Samuel Louis-Jean, a spokesman for Haiti's Provisional Electoral
Council, the body that organized the election.`Haitian people will say
what they have to say on Sunday... I think they will come despite the
intimidation,'' he said.  Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest,
emerged from Haiti's slums to win the presidency in 1990 only to be
ousted in a military coup seven months later and then restored to power
by a U.S.-led invasion force after three years in exile. He is widely
expected to win this election easily. He is Haiti's most popular
politician, and the vote is being boycotted by  opposition parties,
leaving it up to six relative unknowns to pose a  challenge. Three of
those candidates have dropped out of the race due to pre-election
violence although their names remain on the ballot.Aristide's Lavalas
Family party has accused the opposition of fomenting unrest to keep
people from the polls as a way of reducing voter turnout and tainting
Aristide's mandate. The election was considered another crucial step
along Haiti's tortured  path to a stable democracy after decades of
dictatorship and military rule.But with opposition parties and the
international community shunning the vote, political analysts said it
was uncertain what Aristide would be able to accomplish for his country
when he returns to power. The United States, Canada and the European
Union (news - web sites) all refused to send observer teams and money
after protesting parliamentary elections held in May. The international
community declared that ballot tainted after observers said elections
officials miscalculated the winning vote percentages of 10 Senate
candidates Aristide's Lavalas Family party, giving them outright     
victories when they should have been forced into runoffs.``We would
welcome the international community with open arms,''Louis-Jean said.
``We would welcome their advice to do it (elections) better. But we
don't want to be told how to do it.''  Given the escalation of street
violence in recent days, observers were uncertain about what kind of
security Haiti could manage at the polls. The 6,000-member civilian
police force, established after Aristide disbanded the dreaded Army, was
expected out in force in the streets on Sunday.Justice Minister Camille
Leblanc, one of the top national security officials, was visiting
relatives in Paris. He had been expected back in town on Wednesday or
Thursday but had not returned by Friday.The campaign has been
unnaturally quiet. There have been few rallies and only a scattering of
posters, billboards and spray-painted signs to tell residents an
election is about to be held, most hailing Aristide's virtually     
certain return to the post he gave up five years ago to his protege,   
President Rene Preval.``Aristide for life. A vote for Aristide is a vote
for peace,'' read graffiti scrawled on walls of buildings along Delmas,
one of the capital's busiest thoroughfares. Normally choked with cars,
trucks and  ``tap-taps'' the colorful open taxis favored by Haitians to
get around town, Delmas was sparsely traveled at midday on Friday.
The tension in the city was clear, however. American Airlines canceled
flights to and from Port-au-Prince on Sunday and Monday, citing
``logistics'' problems in getting passengers into and out of the
airport. People in the streets were reluctant to talk about the
election. ``Too dangerous. I stay out of politics,'said a man walking on
the streets near the National Palace, an imposing white building with
sprawling green lawns that stands in stark contrast to the poverty in
which most Haitians live.According to a recent U.N. report, 62 percent
of Haiti's population is undernourished, the third worst malnourishment
rate in the world ahead of only Somalia and Afghanistan.