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#3770: Haitians vote at last... (fwd)


Sunday, 21 May, 2000, 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK  BBC NEWS                      
Haitians vote at last____  For some, voting can mean a long wait

 Voting is finally under way in Haiti's general election after three
postponements in seven months. There had been fears that a wave of
political violence would scupper the poll, but international observers
and the local electoral commission said it could go ahead. If the
observers rule the ballot free and fair,Haiti will have its first
functioning government in three years and gain access to millions of   
dollars in frozen foreign aid.  The BBC's Peter Greste in Port au Prince
says voters, who are fed up with political chaos and ready for change,
have been turning out in large numbers.  He says long queues formed
almost as soon as polls opened at 0600 local time, and that voting was
peaceful and brisk even in a town where local election officials had 
received threats.  Odette Thomas, a secretary, was among 50 people
waiting to vote outside a closed polling site in a residential suburb of
Port-au-Prince.  "I'm going to stay the whole day if I have to,        
even until midnight," she said. "I want to vote for change. We have to
get out of this mess. We have laws to pass in parliament." Many people
had earlier said they would wait to see if all was going peacefully
before they decided to venture into the streets. 


A wave of pre-election violence left at least 12 political figures dead,
11 of them linked to the  opposition. President Rene Preval suspended
parliament almost a year-and-a-half ago over a dispute with the       
opposition. But the electoral council postponed the vote three times - 
exhausting the resources of the already thinly stretched political     
parties. The opposition accused the government of creating the obstacles
so it could extend its hold on power. The council blamed massive
logistical problems for the delays. In the voter registration process,
the council reckoned on issuing three million identity cards, but more
than four million people applied.