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29609: Craig (news) Haitians Vote in Long - Delayed Elections (fwd)

From:  Dan Craig

December 3, 2006
Haitians Vote in Long - Delayed Elections
Filed at 9:37 p.m. ET

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Haitians cast ballots Sunday in municipal and local elections that were billed as the final step in the troubled country's return to democratic rule following a bloody February 2004 revolt that toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Some 29,000 candidates were vying for 1,420 local and municipal posts in Sunday's vote, which was marked by low voter turnout and isolated reports of violence.

The elections took place more than a year late because of street violence and logistical delays. Final results were not expected for several days.

On Sunday, assailants burned two polling stations, and shot and wounded a man in the northern town of Limonade, local media reported. Police later shot and wounded a Fusion party official after they found him with two Molotov cocktails.

In the Port-au-Prince slum of Martissant, automatic gunfire rang out after polls opened, but there were no immediate reports of injuries. Rival gangs have been fighting for weeks and had threatened to disrupt the polling, residents said.

United Nations peacekeepers used tear gas to disperse a small crowd that shouted anti-U.N. slogans at a polling station in Cite Soleil, a volatile slum on the edge of Port-au-Prince.

Voter turnout appeared low in most parts of the capital of Port-au-Prince, with many polling stations virtually empty. Officials had predicted turnout at 40 to 50 percent, well below the massive participation in February's presidential vote won by Rene Preval.

Visiting a polling center in the capital, Preval's prime minister, Jacques Edouard Alexis, praised the organization of the elections but said he had hoped for a higher turnout.

''Citizens must be informed of the importance of local communities,'' Alexis told local Radio Metropole.