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#3747: AP FWD - Haiti Prepares For Elections (fwd)


Haiti Prepares For Elections

.c The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Torn between fears of violence and a burning 
desire to change their lives, Haitians have a chance to choose a new 
Parliament on Sunday in long-delayed elections that would restore a legal 
government and foreign aid. 

But a flare-up of political violence, government foot-dragging and bumbling 
preparations could mean trouble. 

``I know everyone says there's going to be violence, and not to go out and 
vote, but I'm going no matter what,'' said 30-year-old mason Jesuslhomme 
Guerrier. ``I'm not going to let the macoutes (bandits) run our country 

Haitians who have largely boycotted an electoral process fraught with fraud 
and disorganization over recent years have registered to vote en masse, some 
4 million of the 8 million people in a country where half the population is 
under 18. 

But many voters' enthusiasm has been doused by fear and more than a dozen 
assassinations that prompted opposition candidates to stop campaigning. The 
United States and United Nations - which intervened to restore democracy in 
1994 - worry their experiment to instill democracy in this Caribbean nation 
is unraveling. 

``By turning out to register in large numbers, Haitians have demonstrated 
their commitment ... to the democratic process,'' U.N. Secretary-General Kofi 
Annan said Friday. 

Sunday's turnout will show whether Haitians can overcome their fears. 

Campaigning ended on a dull note Friday, with just 200 people showing up for 
a rally of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas Family in the 
seaside shantytown of Cite Soleil, a party stronghold. 

Opposition parties say the elections are being rigged to favor Lavalas and 
set up a dictatorship under the populist Aristide, who few doubt will win 
presidential elections planned for November. 

Overthrown in a 1991 coup, Aristide was restored to power after the 1994 
invasion. Barred by law from seeking a consecutive term, he picked Rene 
Preval to succeed him in 1995 elections that brought Haiti's first democratic 
handover of power. 

Preval created an unconstitutional government by disbanding Parliament in 
1999 and appointing a new premier by decree. 

Sunday's elections - postponed at least four times since 1998 - give Haitians 
a chance to right things and, in the process, free $500 million in foreign 
aid desperately needed in a country where 65 percent of the work force is 
unemployed, average annual income is less then $350 and 80 percent of 
children go to bed hungry. 

The vote also will test Aristide's ability to stock Parliament and thousands 
of local government offices with Lavalas loyalists. 

Meanwhile, Haiti's U.N.-trained police force has been unable - or unwilling - 
to stop pre-election violence, and only 3,500 officers will police Sunday's 

``Short of a miracle, I don't see how we can have credible elections,'' 
opposition politician Evans Paul said after a grenade exploded Thursday at 
the gate to the electoral council office, injuring seven passers-by. 

The attack, he said, was intended ``to intimidate the independent voter into 
staying at home, leaving the field wide open for Aristide partisans.'' 

Lavalas Family spokesmen routinely deny the party is behind the violence. 

>From afar, the United States and the United Nations - which have invested 
more than $1 billion in Haiti since the 1994 intervention - are keeping their 
fingers crossed. 

``Despite all the difficulties observed, credible legislative, municipal and 
local elections are still possible,'' the Organization of American States 
said Friday. 

AP-NY-05-20-00 1649EDT