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#3296: Haitian President Approves Election Date (fwd)


Tuesday April 18 3:59 PM ET 
 Haitian President Approves Election Date

  PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitian President Rene Preval has
officially set May 21 as the new date for long-awaited legislative and
municipal elections, Haiti's first national vote in more than three
years, state-run television reported on Tuesday. The elections,
originally set for November of last year, have  been repeatedly
postponed due to problems in registering  more than four million
eligible voters and equipping them with new picture identification
cards. Haiti's ability to hold the vote has been sorely tested in recent
months with frequent street demonstrations, scattered violence and the
slaying of Jean Dominique, one of the nation's most popular journalists
and a leading advocate for democracy. The election is considered a key
step in Haiti's struggle to shake off decades of dictatorship and
military rule. Its first freely chosen president, Jean-Bertrand
 Aristide, was elected in 1990, ousted by the military in 1991 and
restored by a U.S.-led invasion force three years later. Haitian
National Television reported that Preval set the first round of voting
for May 21 with run-off elections on June 25. The May 21 date was
announced by the Provisional Electoral Council last week but needed
Preval's approval. Preval has been ruling by decree since January of
last year when he shut down parliament to end an 18-month government
impasse. He installed a prime minister and cabinet by decree.           
Opposition politicians say the government is stalling the legislative
and municipal elections in hope of holding them in conjunction with a
presidential vote at  the end of the year, when Aristide, who remains
the  nation's most popular politician, is expected to run for and win
the presidency. Candidates for his Lavalas Family party would then have
a better chance of winning control of parliament on his coattails,
critics say. Haiti's last national elections, in April 1997, were
tainted by widespread fraud. The ongoing political crisis has deprived
the poorest country in the Americas of more than $300 million in badly
needed international aid, which requires parliament's approval.
 Members of Haiti's diplomatic corps visited Foreign Minister Fritz
Longchamp on Tuesday to protest rising violence and the inaction of
Haiti's four-year-old police force. On Monday, Alicia Matos, the wife of
Spanish Ambassador Rafael Matos, was slightly injured when rocks thrown
by protesters on the Canape-Vert road connecting Port-au-Prince and the
hilly suburb of Petionville shattered the windshield of the car in which
she was traveling. Protesters blocked the road during most of the
afternoon, throwing rocks at passing cars and burning tires after two
youths were shot dead allegedly by police in civilian clothes. ``It is
not right that during five hours there are rocks being thrown in the
street at passers-by in plain view of the police,'' Canadian Ambassador
Gilles Bernier said. ``In no country in the world will you observe such
a situation. Why tolerate this in Haiti?''