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#3148: Ex-Haiti leader Aristide calls for quick elections (fwd)


Published Thursday, April 6, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 Ex-Haiti leader Aristide calls for quick elections BY LISA ARTHUR 

 Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide called Wednesday for
immediate parliamentary elections in his country, publicly distancing
himself from forces that have postponed the vote for more than 1,000
municipal and parliamentary seats for months. ``We need elections,''
Aristide said during a one-hour forum with students at the Nova
 Southeastern University Law School in Davie. ``We must have elections
in good conditions. My party is ready to participate in elections as
soon as the date is set.''

 Dates have been set, then postponed, and the whole process is now
bogged down in conflict between President Rene Preval -- a member of
 Aristide's Lavalas Family party -- and the Provisional Electoral
Council, with no agreement on when voting will be held.  The Clinton
administration expressed frustration Wednesday over the lack of
 progress in a country where the United States has committed troops,
time and money to restoring democracy.  ``We think the time is right to
hold elections . . . by the end of this month, if the political will is
there,'' Peter Romero, the State Department's assistant secretary
 for Western Hemisphere affairs, said in Washington.  ``We are deeply
troubled by the failure of the Haitian government to set a new
 date for elections,'' he said. ``It looks like they, at least President
Preval, has walked away from the commitments he made to us and more
importantly to the Haitian people.'' Romero said failure to constitute
Parliament by June 12 ``would risk isolating Haiti from the community of
democracies and jeopardize future cooperation.'' Aristide, who spent
three years in exile after being ousted from the presidency in a coup
d'etat in 1991, was at Nova as part of a four-day visit to South
Florida. He had been expected to deliver a speech Friday at the James L.
Knight Center in Miami that would draw thousands of Haitian Americans,
some from as far away as Boston and Canada.  But that speaking
engagement was in doubt Wednesday following word that slain
 Haitian radio journalist Jean Dominique would be buried in Haiti on
Saturday. Dominique, Haiti's best-known radio personality, was a close
ally of Aristide. He was gunned down by an unknown assailant Monday,
along with a radio station caretaker.


 The killings added to the sense of crisis as Haiti struggles to restore
a functioning legislature. Elections had been scheduled for late 1999,
then set for March 19 and April 30 of this year by agreement between
Preval and the Provisional Electoral Council.The council later postponed
the vote to April 9 and May 21, saying organizing
 problems made it impossible to meet the earlier dates. Preval reacted
angrily last month, saying he had not been consulted on the change.
 There has been suspicion among Preval's opposition that he is working
in tandem with Aristide, who is thought to prefer combined parliamentary
and presidential elections later in the year. Aristide denied that
Tuesday, saying he prefers separate elections, with the parliamentary
and municipal vote held as soon as possible and the presidential
 vote later. Aristide is generally viewed as the likely winner of the
presidential election and it is thought he would probably benefit from
the coattail effect of combined elections, giving him a better chance at
a parliamentary majority. When asked if he would definitely be a
presidential candidate, he said: ``It is not impossible.'' Aristide said
Haiti must carry out the elections to move forward in its transition
 from a dictatorship to a viable, deeply rooted democracy, and to
maintain credibility in the international arena. ``Keeping the political
stability is one way to attract investors,'' he said. He responded to a
question about reports of increasing violence fueled by his
 supporters by saying those were media misperceptions. ``These are not
my supporters,'' he said. ``We know the government of Haiti does
 not want to have burning tires in the street or have social disorder.
But the legacy of what has come before in my country is a weak judicial


 Aristide laid part of the blame on a U.S. policy of deporting Haitians
who have been convicted of crimes in the United States. ``This is
something that is an issue that we have to deal with, with authorities
in both countries,'' he said. Kerline Altidor, a Miami law student who
asked the violence question, said later she felt Aristide only
half-answered her question. ``These reports of violence are coming out
of Haiti and are on Haitian radio,'' said Altidor, who came to the
United States from Haiti 20 years ago. ``It is happening, from the
information we have coming from there.'' When asked if he favored a
return of U.S. soldiers to help keep the peace in Haiti,
 Aristide said: ``I think I answered that earlier when I talked about my
happiness with what we have been able to accomplish working together
with the U.S. and the United Nations, and my desire to keep good
relations and continue to work together.''

 Herald staff writers Hans Mardy, Sandra Marquez Garcia and Jacqueline
Charles, and Herald wire services contributed to this report.