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8533: Haiti-Council (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By MICHAEL NORTON
PORT-AU-PRINCE, July 2 (AP) -- Breaking a yearlong stalemate that is
ruining Haiti's economy, opposition and governing party leaders met Monday
to discuss the timing for new elections.
The talks followed a late-night agreement Sunday on the composition of a
council to oversee the elections. That agreement came an hour before the
deadline to set up the council under a proposal made by President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide and endorsed by the Organization of American States.
If the agreement holds, the OAS has promised to help Haiti recover
hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid suspended after tainted
legislative elections last year.
For weeks the 15-party opposition alliance, called Convergence, had
refused to participate in talks to form a new electoral council, charging
that Haiti's leader would find some other way to rig elections.
OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria, who mediated Monday's talks,
persuaded opposition leaders to meet with representatives of Aristide's
Lavalas Party on Saturday.
"I am moderately optimistic -- in any case, less pessimistic than I was
two days ago," said opposition spokesman Serge Gilles.
Also in Haiti at the weekend was U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, chairman of
the Senate foreign relations subcommittee on hemispheric affairs, who said,
"I am confident that before this process is over, there will be an
agreement." Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, spoke before he left Haiti
Sunday night the two sides agreed the new electoral council would
include representatives of Lavalas, Convergence, other political parties,
the judiciary, churches and human rights and business associations.
Monday's discussion focussed on the major sticking point: the opposition
wants general elections as soon as possible; Aristide has promised
staggered balloting through 2004 starting this year with elections for
seven Senate seats that OAS observers said were wrongly given to Aristide's
Lavalas swept more than 80 percent of some 7,000 posts in elections last
year that the opposition charged were fraudulent. Aristide was re-elected
president in November balloting boycotted by the opposition.
The OAS agreed last month to help release suspended aid if the parties
make progress toward "an enduring solution of the crisis." At the same
time, the organization endorsed Aristide's plan to hold staggered