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Reports Surface That Haitian Opposition Candidate Killed

Los Angeles Times
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Tuesday that while he regretted problems with Haiti's parliamentary and municipal elections, there was no fraud and the vote was "a major step toward democracy."

Speaking against a background of continuing complaints of electoral irregularities and mismanagement, Aristide told American reporters in his office that the major accomplishment of Sunday's elections was their largely peaceful nature.

"Last Sunday," he said, "I saw the Haitian people (vote) in a peaceful climate. They were delighted to have that opportunity to show the will of the Haitian people.

"The relative lack of violence," Aristide said, "feeds my faith in my people."

He was interviewed before reports surfaced of what could be the first instance of serious election-related violence here, the alleged killing of an opposition candidate. Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul said in a statement that Henock Jean-Charles was shot to death Tuesday in the southwest city of Anse d'Hainault by a rival candidate for mayor.

Paul and Jean-Charles belong to the National Front for Change and Democracy, which split earlier from Aristide and has run candidates opposing the president's Lavalas Party.

Officials from the United Nations and Organization of American States said "it is probable" the killing occurred but said they had not seen the victim's body nor confirmed the political nature of the killing.

When asked about the instances of closed polling stations, missing ballots and charges of improper vote counting, Aristide called the problems "technical aspects which we regret."

He said he would meet soon with leaders of various political parties to discuss "how to repair these problems." He said he has urged the country's Provisional Electoral Council to seek solutions in time for parliamentary run-off elections July 23 as well for the presidential vote scheduled for December.

As if aware of criticism that he had stacked the deck against disorganized and poorly financed opposition parties, the president said that "if necessary," he would order his government to consider giving them "financial support."

He blamed Haiti's lack of tradition and experience in democracy for some of the problems, saying that electoral workers "will have to improve. The country will have to improve." At the same time, Aristide indicated the responsibility for the crippled process had to be shared by parties and candidates unable to accept losing.

"I don't see that" there was any fraud, Aristide said. But "I did see a fraudulent society. For instance, people who felt they would lose would burn ballots."