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#2264: Protesters block Haiti national highway (fwd)


WIRE:02/09/2000 16:15:00 ET
Protesters block Haiti national highway
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -Protesters blocked a national  highway     
southwest of Haiti's capital Wednesday, demanding that  election       
officials send them voter registration materials.  Supporters of former
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide  blocked the highway near the town of
Petit Goave with burning  tires, rocks and wood in the early morning and
said they would  renew their protest unless cameras and film were soon
delivered  so that they could make voter registration cards.  Haiti is
scheduled to have legislative and municipal elections, its first in
three years, on March 19. For the first  time Haiti's 4 million eligible
voters must have voter cards  with photos made in order to cast
ballots.In the past few days, the lack of voter materials and the 
absence of registration offices have provoked  protests  throughout the
country.   Dozens of protesters blocked busy streets on Monday         
in  Martissant, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince,
to demand a voter registration office in their  neighborhood.          
"We want to vote so that we can choose who we want," said  Fritzner
Innocent, 25. "What kind of country is this? Why  should we have to
fight to be able to vote?"  Without a voter registration office,
residents of Martissant  said they would be left out of the elections.  
Aristide supporters blocked traffic Monday on Delmas, a main  artery in
the capital, to protest the absence of voter  registration offices and
to express  support for Aristide's  return to power.  Aristide, a former
priest and Haiti's best-known politician,  is largely expected to win
the presidency in December elections.  His party, Lavalas Family, has  
been accused of trying to  sabotage upcoming legislative and municipal
elections in order  to have  one general election in December so that
the party's candidates could be elected on his coattails. In a Monday
press statement, Lavalas Family expressed  support for those demanding
voter registration offices and voter  ID cards.   "Those who don't get a
card, speak, scream, ask,  demand  it," the statement urged.  It made no
mention of March 19 elections but said the party  hoped everyone would
have a voter ID card for February 2001, the  date Haiti's next president
is expected to take office.  "The problem is not the absence of voter
registration offices. The problem is that there are a concentration   
of  offices and the people don't know where to go," Roland  Sainristil,
a spokesman for the Provisional Electoral Council,  charged with
organizing elections, told Reuters. There are some 3,500 registration
offices throughout the  country, and the CEP will add 1,000 more,       
Sainristil said.  A U.S. Congressional delegation led by Rep. John     
Conyers, a  Michigan Democrat, was expected to visit Haiti on Friday to 
observe election preparations.  "The U.S. government remains deeply
committed to supporting  and enhancing the cause of human rights      
and democracy in Haiti,  as a core value of our own foreign policy,"
Harold Hongju Koh,  U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy,
human rights  and labor, said at a press conference Wednesday, after
three  days of meeting with government, political  officials and civil 
groups in Haiti.  The United States invaded Haiti with 20,000 foreign
troops  to overthrow a three-year military regime and return Aristide, 
who had been ousted in 1991, to  power. The last of the U.S.  troops
left Haiti in January.