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#3641: ON ELECTION EVE, ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSES IN THE DR (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
Santo Domingo, May 15 (EFE) -- Allegations that dozens of black Dominicans
have been detained and had their voter registration cards seized have
become a source of concern on the eve of the country's May 16 presidential
The Central Elections Board (JCE), the agency responsible for conducting
the election, alleged that the government has been seen by witnesses
arresting black Dominican citizens, many of whom "look Haitian," and taking
away their voter registration cards.
The reports have raised "grave" concern in the Organization of American
States' (OAS) team of election observers, said OAS mission chief Santiago
Murray, who called a special meeting to study the situation.
On Saturday, JCE President Manuel Ramon Morel Cerda met with Dominican
President Leonel Fernandez to demand the government return the cards to
their owners "immediately," because without them they cannot exercise their
right to vote.
"The immigration department's response has been emphatic: Today they
tripled the number of black citizens who were stripped of their voters
registration card," Morel Cerda said.
Leaders of both the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) - whose
candidate has the best chance of winning the first round - and the Social
Christian Reformist Party (PRSC) have accused the government of attempting
to keep opponents of ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) candidate
Danilo Medina from voting.
A total of 4,251,218 Dominicans - 2,133,297 women and 2,117,921 men -
are eligible to vote in Tuesday's election, the 13th since dictator Rafael
Leonidas Trujillo was assassinated in 1961.
In order to facilitate voting by state employees, the government closed
all of its offices from noon Monday to early Wednesday.
Most businesses also closed early Monday and hundreds did not even open,
in preparation for the election.
Since early morning Santo Domingo residents have been streaming to the
provinces where many are registered.
Public and private schools students have been dismissed until Wednesday,
and only emergency hospital, police, fire and other essential services are
Since 1996, Dominican voting regulations have called for women to vote
in the morning and men in the afternoon.
The country's predominantly male Congress enacted the rule in order to
"protect women" from possible incidents of violence when the polls close
and vote-tallying begins.
The law establishes that women have from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. to vote, a
period the Central Elections Board has extended to 9:30 a.m.
Of the seven candidates on Tuesday's ballot, Joaquin Balaguer, 93 and
blind, has attracted the most international attention. The seven-term
president has been accused of resorting to electoral fraud in past
Balaguer is running against the PLD's Danilo Medina and the PRD's
Hipolito Mejia, who are said to be treating their elderly rival with kid
gloves because they might need his support in a runoff election.