May 23, 2000

Fraud claims, chaotic vote count threaten credibility of Haiti

                  PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Charges of fraud and a chaotic vote
                  count that had workers sweeping up ballots on a Port-au-Prince street
                  threaten the credibility of an election billed as the last hope for Haitian

                  An opposition candidate for a local council, meanwhile, was stoned to
                  death, the third victim of election violence since balloting began Sunday.

                  The disorderly collection and counting of ballots from legislative and local
                  elections held Sunday was "most unfortunate," said Ambassador Orlando
                  Marville of the Organization of American States, who is in charge of 200
                  international observers. Even as he and other observers insisted the elections
                  were successful despite the problems, officials warned that a prolonged count
                  was vulnerable to tampering.

                  Elections were held under pressure from the United States, which sent troops to
                  oust a military regime in 1994, and the United Nations, which took over with a
                  peacekeeping and humanitarian mission. The last international troops left Haiti in

                  In a joint statement, opposition parties charged that "an electoral coup d'etat" was
                  in the works to give a landslide victory to the Lavalas Family party of former
                  President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is favored to win presidential elections in

                  Bickering over fraud in Haiti's last election, in 1997, led to a feud between
                  the majority party in Parliament and President Rene Preval, Aristide's
                  protege. Preval disbanded Parliament in 1999 and ruled by decree -- creating an
                  unconstitutional government that Sunday's vote was supposed to fix.

                  Also at stake is $500 million in international aid that has been suspended
                  until Haiti sets up a constitutional government. The money is desperately
                  needed in a country where 65 percent of the work force is unemployed.

                  Though official results are not expected for days, Aristide's party claimed a
                  massive victory Monday, and thousands of supporters took to the streets to

                  Waving Lavalas placards, hundreds lobbed stones at a group of opposition
                  protesters who had been demonstrating to protest alleged fraud. Opposition
                  candidate Jean-Michele Olophene was later found dead nearby with his head

                  Opposition politicians claimed Aristide loyalists had controlled polling stations and
                  expelled opposition observers.

                  Some polling stations opened late on Sunday, and hundreds never opened at all --
                  which the opposition claimed was a deliberate attempt to discourage its
                  supporters from voting.

                  Lavalas spokesman Yvon Neptune, a senate candidate, said the fraud accusations
                  came from "a group of politicians with no roots among the people."

                  Ballot papers and empty boxes were strewn in the street in front of the central
                  counting station for ballots from Port-au-Prince, said Jean-Paul Poirier, a
                  Canadian consultant to the electoral council. Votes gathered there represented
                  about a tenth of those cast by the 4 million registered voters.

                  Poirier said he organized a cleanup and thought workers recovered about 90
                  percent of the materials.

                  Inside, four officials tried to collate tally sheets from piles of votes 2 feet (more
                  than 0.5 meter) high. About 29,490 candidates had contested 7,625 posts in the
                  national legislature, mayoral commissions, and local and rural councils.

                  The head of the center, Rose Delaunay, said election officials without
                  transportation had to carry ballot boxes on their heads in a rainstorm for up to
                  one mile (1.5 kilometers) on Monday.

                  At another center in suburban Delmas, hundreds of ballot boxes and tally sheets
                  were piled up haphazardly and scattered across an open courtyard.

                  "It's really a disaster," said election official Sanon Miche, 25, clutching to his
                  chest the tally sheets and voter registration ledger that he had brought to be