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#3771: Shootings, delays plague Haitian elections (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

    (Updates throughout with polls closed)

     By Jane Sutton

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, May 21 (Reuters) - Two people died in a gunfight at
one polling site and late distribution of ballots delayed voting elsewhere
in Haiti's parliamentary and local elections on Sunday, further hampering
efforts to establish a full government in the impoverished Caribbean
     The nation of 7.5 million people has operated without a full
government since President Rene Preval dissolved parliament in January
1999. That has held up distribution of more than $500 million of sorely
needed international aid in Haiti, where the average yearly income is below
$400 per person. Successful elections would pave the way for a presidential
vote in November.
     Sunday's elections were postponed indefinitely for technical reasons
in one of Haiti's nine geographic departments, Grande Anse, where partisan
bickering delayed the start of voter registration until last week.
     In Haiti's eight other departments, polls were scheduled to open at 6
a.m.  (1100 GMT). Many opened several hours late because they had not
received ballots, said Mary Durran, a spokeswoman for election observers
from the Organisation of American States
     Some parts of Haiti, especially in the mountains, are so remote that
the ballots were to be carried by donkey pack.
     A policeman and another man were killed in an exchange of gunfire at a
polling station in the town of Croix-des-Bouquets, north of the capital,
police said.
     A gunman supporting a mayoral candidate fired on police for unknown
reasons, shooting an officer who died a few moments later at a hospital.
Police returned fire, killing the gunman.
     Enthusiasm for the election was tempered by the killing of 15
candidates and party officials in the past two months. Some victims were
hacked to bits with machetes. The elections were first set for November
1999, and the many postponements have exhausted most candidates' meagre
     But OAS observers said they were heartened to see lines of voters at
the polls.
     "We're pleased with the surprisingly high turnout. The violence was
isolated and on the whole it went pretty well," Durran said.
     Polls officially closed at 6 p.m., an hour later than scheduled to
compensate for late openings, and others stayed open even later because
voters were still waiting to cast ballots. Neither the OAS nor the
Provisionial Electoral Council (CEP), which oversees voting could estimate
how many of the 11,235 polling sites nationwide had opened or how many
voters participated.
     Odette Thomas, a 42-year-old secretary, was among 50 people waiting to
vote outside a closed polling site in Turgeau, a residential neighbourhood
of Port-au-Prince early in the day.
     "I'm going to stay the whole day if I have to, even until midnight,"
Thomas said. "I want to vote for change. We have to get out of this mess.
We have laws to pass in Parliament. There is too much crap going on, too
many people dying needlessly."
     At a polling station in the Delmas neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince,
witnesses said voting was cut short when a red truck sped away with the
ballot boxes four hours before the polls closed.
     Debussy Damier, vice president of the Provisional Electoral Council
(CEP) overseeing the vote, told Radio Vision 2000 that some drivers who
were to deliver ballots on Saturday did not do so until Sunday because they
feared leaving them unguarded in the polling sites overnight.
     Elsewhere, workers demanded to be paid before they would deliver
ballots, Damier said.
     The main election contenders -- the Lavalas Family of former President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and a bloc of six opposition parties -- both
proclaimed victory days before the election.
     Preliminary results were expected in a few days and a run-off election
was set for June 25. Most of the ballots were to be hand-tallied at
regional bureaus that were supplied with candles because of scattered power
     Voters chose candidates to fill some 7,500 posts including 19 Senate
seats, the entire 83-seat Chamber of Deputies and 133 mayors. Aristide is
widely expected to run again in November's presidential elections. The new
president would then choose a prime minister and cabinet.
     Elections are rare in Haiti, which overthrew French colonists to
become the first black republic in 1804 but has struggled under
dictatorships and political instability since.
     In 1987, at least 34 people were killed by paramilitaries in an
aborted presidential election. That massacre was still fresh in the minds
of many Haitians, who stayed in their homes on Sunday, leaving the streets
strangely quiet in the capital.
     Aristide, a former parish priest, was chosen as president in Haiti's
first democratic elections, run by the United Nations in 1990. He was
overthrown by a military coup seven months after taking office and restored
to power by a U.S.-led military invasion in 1994.
     Preval, an Aristide ally, was elected in 1996 but was unable to work
effectively with the multi-party parliament he dismissed. Haiti's last
elections, in April 1997, were annulled due to widespread fraud.