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#3716: Blast seen as an attempt to intimidate Haitian voters (fwd)


Published Friday, May 19, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 Blast seen as an attempt to intimidate Haitian voters BY DON BOHNING 

 PORT-AU-PRINCE -- A grenade thrown at the headquarters of Haiti's
Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) raised new security concerns
 Thursday as the countdown toward Sunday's long-delayed and
trouble-plagued parliamentary and local elections continued. The
grenade, tossed from a passing car Wednesday night on busy Delmas, one
of the city's main thoroughfares, injured several passersby but did only
minimal damage to the wrought-iron entrance of CEP headquarters.
 But coming as it did on the eve of the elections, amid a climate of
insecurity and politically related violence, the biggest concern was the
psychological impact on potential voters and fear it might prompt many
to stay away from the polls. That seemed to be the intent of the attack,
which generated extensive local news coverage. ``The plan is to
intimidate people so they don't vote,'' said former president and
 opposition leader Leslie Manigat. At the United Nations, Secretary
General Kofi Annan urged Haitians to forsake violence. Annan commended
Haitians for ``the great strides'' taken toward holding elections, but
said he was ``disheartened'' to learn of the grenade attack. ``It was
not physically severe in terms of damage,'' noted Orville Marville, a
 Barbados diplomat who heads an Organization of the American States
Electoral Observation Mission in Haiti. ``But it shows there are a few
people still against the electoral process . . . that don't want to see
it succeed. I hope it does not affectthe participation.'' ``It's
intimidation,'' said Ormill Saint Fort, 50, an electoral council
employee as he surveyed the damage Thursday from the sidewalk in front
of the CEP headquarters. Gerline Jean, 28, a pharmacy employee, said at
midday Thursday she hadn't even been aware of the grenade blast, but it
would not prevent her from voting. About 15 people have been killed over
the past six weeks in what is considered election-related violence. The
highest-profile victim was Jean Dominique, killed April 9 by an assassin
who waited for him at his radio station for his daily early-morning
broadcast. ``The violent acts underscore the fragility of the security
situation and demonstrate the real possibility that these acts could
repeat themselves on a nationwide scale,'' the OAS Electoral Monitoring
Mission said in an interim report released Thursday. ``The big question
is, will it [the grenade blast] have any impact on the turnout
 Sunday,'' said a Haitian businessman. ``Is this it and nothing else, or
will it continue every night before the elections?'' The most likely
scenario for election day, say observers, is that turnout will be
 sparse in the early hours of Sunday when the polls first open, with
people waiting to assess the security situation before deciding to
venture out. Opposition leaders speculated that those responsible for
the grenade attack might be supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide's Family Lavalas party, which is seen as the biggest
beneficiary of a low voter turnout.  But party officials deny
responsibility and claim the accusers are making wild charges without
evidence. ``We encourage everybody who wants elections not to be cowed
by the violence,'' said Yvon Neptune, Family Lavalas spokesman and a
party candidate for senator. Sunday's elections are considered crucial
for getting Haiti back on a democratic track after 18 months without a
parliament and three years without a fully functioning government as a
result of a political impasse. About 29,500 candidates will contest the
7,500 local and parliamentary positions on the ballot. A second round is
scheduled June 25 for the 83 lower chamber and 19 Senate seats at stake.
There are no local runoffs.

 Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.