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#3743: Eerie Calm in Haitian Capital One Day Before Election (fwd)


Saturday May 20 3:56 PM ET 
 Eerie Calm in Haitian Capital One Day Before Election

 By Jennifer Bauduy

 PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - A tense calm prevailed over the capital
Saturday on the eve of elections in Haiti, as voters in the impoverished
Caribbean nation prepared to go to the polls after several
postponements. Voter enthusiasm appeared at an all-time low, dashed by
the repeated delays and about 15 election-related killings
 since late March. The latest incident was the explosion of a grenade on
Wednesday in front of the Provisional Election Council (CEP)
headquarters, which injured three people. The main election contenders
-- the Lavalas Family of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and a
block of six opposition parties -- have both proclaimed victory days
before the May 21 legislative, municipal and local elections.``I don't
know why they need to keep the polls open until 5 p.m., because Lavalas
 Family will have won the elections by 11 a.m.,'' Lavalas Family senate
candidate Dany Toussaint, a former major and close Aristide ally, said
at a political rally this week.Voters will choose candidates to fill
some 7,500 posts including 19 senate seats, the entire 83-seat Chamber
of Deputies and 133 mayoralties. ``The Haitian people are against this
power of thugs... They will vote to throw Lavalas out,'' Sauveur
Pierre-Etienne, of the Organization of People in Struggle, said. The
head of the Organization of American States Election Observer Mission in
Haiti said he did not feel there was unfair control by any one party of
polling sites. ``Those who are fairly sure they will not do well are
going to talk about fraud,'' Orlando Marville said. The results of
Haiti's last elections, in April 1997, were annulled due to widespread
fraud. In 1987, at least 34 people were killed by paramilitaries in an
aborted presidential election. The memory of that massacre is still
fresh in the minds of many Haitians who stocked up on food and other
basic necessities in supermarkets on Friday and Saturday.

 People Stay Indoors Fearing Trouble

 Traffic was light as people stayed indoors fearing trouble and others
left the capital to avoid potential violence. Haiti, with a population
of 7.5 million, has been ruled by dictators for most of its 200-year
history, and the rare elections held were rigged. Aristide was elected
in 1991 in the country's first free elections. He was overthrown seven
months later by the military but a U.S.-led invasion restored him to
power in 1994. A local radio station reported that an anonymous flyer
was circulating in the western town of St. Marc on Saturday
 listing the names of several radio journalists and political candidates
who would be assassinated before or after the elections, ``We hope that
for the good of the country those that win will be modest, and that
those who lose accept their defeat without hatred...'' CEP President
Leon Manus, in an address to the nation on Friday. The nine-member CEP
was created to organize legislative elections, and a new election body
will be formed to organize presidential elections expected in five
months. ``Overall the process is going well. All the materials have
arrived, ballot boxes, ballot paper, polling booths, ink etc..'' CEP
spokesman Roland Sainristil said. But Minister of Justice Camille
Leblanc paid a last-minute visit to the CEP headquarters Saturday to
investigate unconfirmed reports that one million voter ballots and
several hundred voter registries had disappeared. Haitian authorities
have sealed the border with neighboring Dominican Republic until Tuesday
to prevent potential troublemakers from fleeing after disrupting the
election. They have also prohibited the selling or consumption of
alcoholic beverages in public places, and temporarily suspended for one
week all licenses to carry arms. ``This is unheard of,'' Reynold Georges
of the opposition Patriotic Movement for National Salvation fumed. ``Who
has license to carry arms? It is us -- political leaders, professionals,
the businessmen who they are always sending thugs to attack. The killers
don't have legal licenses, and they (the authorities) know that.''