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#3754: Haiti Holds Elections Amid Violence (fwd)


Sunday May 21 1:21 AM ET Haiti Holds Elections Amid Violence
By MICHELLE FAUL, Associated Press Writer 

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - In a somber atmosphere weighted with fear
and  uncertainty, the mettle of Haiti's much-abused people will be
tested at elections Sunday  which will restore a democratic government
and desperately needed foreign aid. A long drawn-out campaign marred by
at least 15 politically related slayings, arson attacks and growing
intimidation ended with rumors that violence will erupt at the polls.
 ``I'm not going to risk it,'' said street merchant Jeannine Charlier,
31, echoing the sentiments of many people who planned to stay home.
 Not everyone was intimidated. ``I'm going to overcome my fear and vote
anyway,'' said 84-year-old farmer Jean Philippe who, like most people
interviewed, supports former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas
Family party. 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 - indicating a burning
desire for change.  Some 29,490 candidates are contesting 7,625 posts
including Parliament's 83-seat  Chamber of Deputies, 19 of 27 Senate
seats, 133 three-member mayoral commissions  and seats on local, rural
and urban councils.Voting at 11,238 polling places is supposed to start
at 6 a.m. and end at 6 p.m. Runoff elections are scheduled June 25 for
legislative contests where no candidate wins more than 50 percent of
votes. But there are sure to be hitches. Though $22.5 million was
budgeted for the election - including $8 million from international
donors - disorganization is expected. Saturday night, officials
postponed voting by 200,000 people in southern Grand Anse district,
citing ``insurmountable logistical difficulties,'' a source at the
electoral council said. Voters may have trouble finding polling stations
that have not been well identified, names may be missing from
 voters' rolls and some voting stations may not receive ballot papers in
time. The electoral council denied rumors Sunday that 1 million ballot
papers were stolen. Ballot papers are not numbered, the Organization of
American States has noted with concern, opening the way for counterfeit
votes and stuffing of ballot boxes. The organization also criticized the
U.N.-trained police force for not stopping pre-election violence, most
committed by Aristide militants though his party routinely denies
involvement. The police behavior does not bode well for Sunday, with
just 3,500 officers to secure the elections nationwide. In the
northeast, the vice president of the departmental electoral council said
he was going underground after incessant telephone death threats. ``I
have to save my life, I'm going into hiding,'' Ignace St. Fleur, also a
member of the Space for Concorde opposition coalition, told The
Associated Press by telephone. Also late Saturday, three bursts of
automatic gunfire ripped out in front of Aristide's center for homeless
children in midtown Port-au-Prince. Witnesses said they saw heavily
armed men in the area.
 ``An electoral farce is being prepared for tomorrow,'' complained one
opposition leader, former Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul.
 ``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