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US secretary of state urges ‘fair’ elections in Haiti

United States wanted to see elections that were “open and inclusive and fair”

PORT-AU-PRINCE – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Haiti’s government to allow more candidates to stand in November 20 presidential elections in which 22 hopefuls have been ruled ineligible. “Those who want to participate in this election should be allowed to participate,” Rice said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Gerard Latortue in the Haitian capital.

In her first visit to the impoverished Caribbean nation since she became the top US diplomat, Rice said the United States wanted to see elections that were “open and inclusive and fair”. But the prime minister insisted no candidate had been barred without cause.

“All parties can participate in the elections unless there is a constitutional or legal reason,” Latortue said. One presidential candidate had been rejected by the Provisional Electoral Commission because he was a US citizen, he said. “He isn’t Haitian and lives in a hotel.”

The prime minister was referring to Dumarsais Simeus, a wealthy businessman of Haitian origin who has lived in the United States for 40 years. Only 32 of 54 possible presidential candidates were approved by the Provisional Electoral Commission, which published its list of candidates last Friday. Prime Minister Latortue said four or five names may be added to the ballot after an appeals process presided over by the electoral commission.

Haitian and US authorities, mindful of violence that accompanied a visit by Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell, imposed tight security precautions and blocked off the downtown area. During Powell’s trip on December 1, 2004, gunfire erupted in front of the presidential palace and eight people were wounded.

Rice was whisked from the heavily guarded national airport by helicopter to the National Palace to meet with interim president Boniface Alexandre, Prime Minister Latortue and members of the UN mission. Later, she visited a voter registration center.

A UN force of about 7,000 troops and police have struggled to keep order since former president Jean Bertrand Aristide fled in February 2004.

Hundreds of people have been killed in recent months and questions have been raised about Haiti’s first presidential and legislative elections since the ouster of Aristide.

The first round is to be held on November 20 and a second round on January 3, after local elections on December 11. The campaign officially starts October 8.

Aristide, who has kept a low-profile while in exile in South Africa, said in April that he would not run in the presidential election. Rice made clear that the United States and other governments expected him to stay out of Haiti’s politics.