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Except For Deaths, No Violence At Haiti Polls

From the confused reporters at the DNC front they call Newsday:

Chaos and confusion, but no violence as Haitians cast ballots


February 7, 2006, 4:57 PM EST

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Enraged by massive disorganization and hours-long delays to cast ballots, voters stormed polling centers and scuffled with United Nations peacekeepers Tuesday in the first presidential election since an armed revolt two years ago pushed Haiti to the brink of collapse.

At least two people were killed and several others injured in stampedes in the capital of Port-au-Prince, where police lobbed teargas to stop voters who were tearing down metal gates to enter gigantic, hopelessly understaffed polling stations.

Nevertheless, the balloting was free of the organized violence that has ravaged many elections here, prompting Haitian and international officials to hail it as a critical step in re-planting democracy in the hemisphere's poorest and one of its most troubled nations.

"Haitians are doing it. They have overcome their fear to come to the polls," U.S. Ambassador Tim Carney told Newsday.

A 9,300-strong UN peacekeeping force has struggled to maintain order in this Maryland-sized nation of 8 million since the armed ouster in February 2004 of Haiti's popular but controversial President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Chaos was greatest outside Cité Soleil, a gang-ruled slum so volatile that election officials refused to place polling centers there, directing voters to instead cast ballots in industrial buildings on the periphery.

Hundreds of angry Cité Soleil residents marched through streets jammed with UN tanks and littered with piles of burning garbage, waving their voting cards and shouting that they'd been turned away at their designated polling centers on the periphery. Other protesters said they'd waited six or more hours to cast ballots.

"The bourgeoisie is trying to stage an electoral coup so the poor people can't vote their choice," screamed demonstrator Paul Ery, 45, who like most Cite Soleil residents is jobless. "We don't have food, we don't have work, we don't have schools and now we can't even vote."

If the winner isn't frontrunner René Préval, a former president and the favored candidate of the poor who comprise 70 percent of the population, "we'll take to the streets," Ely warned.

Fanning the flames, some Cité Soleil gang members and community leaders zooming around on motorscooters erroneously told residents and media that police had opened fire on voters, killing one and wounding several others.

Haitian authorities urged calm and extended polling hours from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with a promise that everyone in line by then will be able to vote. In a desperate attempt to beef up several polling centers where ballots arrived hours late or workers had simply failed to show, officials began pulling volunteers from voting lines and giving them crash courses in helping run polling booths.

That effort was too late to prevent a woman and an elderly man from being asphyxiated during crushes at two separate polling centers in the capital, among several that opened three or more hours later.

Once doors opened, some voters crawled under UN soldiers' feet to squeeze into voting centers. Some then waited an hour or more in one line, only to be redirected to another line — or told their name didn't appear on voting rolls even though they had brand new voting cards.

"It's a sham,"fumed voter Lithiane Miliace, 51, as she was turned away. "I spent six hours today trying to vote and the election workers can't even tell me where I'm supposed to go."

Both the UN and the Organization of American States have tried to prop up the voting process, which was managed by a Haitian provisional electoral council.

Préval, a former Aristide protégé who was president from 1996-2001 and is the only elected leader in Haitian history to peacefully serve his full term, was widely expected to place first by a wide margin in the 35-way presidential race. With many ballots being hauled up to seven hours by nearly 300 mules, horses and donkeys from almost impassable mountain hamlets, even early results weren't expected until at least Wednesday.

If no candidate wins a majority, a second round of balloting will be held between the top two vote-getters March 19. Voters also are casting ballots for the 129-seat national parliament.

Good thing there wasn't any violence.

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, February 7th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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