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#2361: Reuters on voter registration problems (fwd)


Vote-Card Protests Block Main Highway in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, (Reuters) - Dozens of supporters of former President 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide blocked a national highway in southern Haiti Friday to 
demand more voter registration offices, local radio reported. 

It was the latest in a series of protests against lagging voter registration 
in the impoverished Caribbean nation as it tries to make picture 
identification cards for some four million eligible voters for the first 

For the second time this week, protesters outside the town of Petit-Goave, 
southwest of the capital, burned tires and blocked National Highway 2, 
according to radio reports. 

Demonstrators attacked and beat Elysee Sincere, a radio reporter for Radio 
Vision 2000, accusing him of working for a radio station hostile to the 

"The protesters are being very violent," Sincere reported on Radio Vision 
2000. "The situation is very serious." 

The voter registration program has been hampered by staff and equipment 
shortages around Haiti, calling into question Haiti's ability to hold the 
vote as scheduled. 

Haiti is set to hold legislative and municipal elections on March 19 and 
April 30, the first since a national vote in April 1997 that was tainted by 
allegations of fraud. 

Despite the protests, a Washington-based advisory group said Friday that the 
unprecedented registration has produced "very good" turnout despite isolated 
violence, mix-ups and deadline woes. 

Haiti is struggling to establish democracy following decades of dictatorship 
that ended in 1986 and a return to military dictatorship in the early 1990s. 
In 1994 a U.S.-led invasion force restored Aristide, the nation's f
irst freely elected president, three years after he was ousted by a junta. 

And President Rene Preval, who took office in 1996, has been ruling by decree 
since shutting down parliament in January 1999. 

In Miami, Karen Seiger, a senior program officer for the International 
Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), said that voter registration began 
two weeks behind schedule on Jan. 24 and two-thirds of the registration off
ices in Port-au-Prince have yet to open. 

By law, each registration office must be open for at least 30 days before the 
election, IFES said. 

"It appears likely that registration may need to be extended by two or three 
weeks," said IFES, which is providing technical and logistic help to Haiti 
election officials. 

Seiger told Reuters it was too early to say whether IFES would recommend 
postponing the vote. But IFES said in its report that it was "better to 
change the election date rather than compromise the integrity of the process

Haiti adopted the laminated photo cards to deter fraud. The system uses 
Polaroid technology and does not require electricity, which is important 
because electric service is patchy in rural Haiti. 

By Feb. 4 -- 11 days after registration began -- more than 900,000 people had 
received their voter ID cards, about 22.5 percent of those expected to 
register, IFES said.