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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 10:13 GMT
Challenging future for Haitians
Claire Marshall
By Claire Marshall
BBC News, Port-au-Prince

All over the decaying walls of the fetid slum of Bel Air, in Port-au-Prince, are plastered posters of the current front-runner in Haiti's elections, Rene Preval.

A UN peacekeeper patrols a slum in Haiti
Many Haitians still feel insecure, despite UN presence

A lorry equipped with a vast speaker system blasts out the sounds of the Caribbean.

Beside piles of rubbish rotting in the streets, hundreds of Mr Preval's supporters, the impoverished inhabitants of this district, sing and dance to the music.

The face of Haiti's ousted President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, also gazes down at them from dusty posters which are several years old.

Conditions 'worse'

Despite his exile in South Africa, the memory of Mr Aristide is very much alive here.

"Preval and Aristide, they are twins," members of the crowd yell out.

Some 70% of the population is unemployed... Most people do not live beyond 50, and only one in two can read

Another three men say that they will vote for Mr Preval because they believe that he will eventually pave the way for the return of their former leader.

Many feel that since Mr Aristide left, conditions in Haiti have just got worse.

Mr Preval is feeling the benefit of this support - he is around 17 points ahead of his nearest rival.

However, he refuses to comment on his once-close links to the controversial ex-president.

In an interview, the softly spoken 63-year-old politician told the BBC that Mr Aristide could return if he liked, as it was in accordance with the constitution.

When asked if he could control the gangs linked to the former leader, who are creating such violence in the slums, he said: "I will not control them, I will eliminate them."

Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Some feel conditions in Haiti have got worse since Mr Aristide left
On the edge of the manicured lawns of the presidential palace, large black and white photographs of all the candidates have been tied to the railings.

Groups of people stand looking up at the bewildering choice of more than 30 contenders.

Mr Preval's closest rival is Charles Henry Baker, a businessman whose main support comes from Haiti's wealthy elite.

He describes himself as "untainted", by being free from any association with Haiti's murky political past.

Whoever gets the job faces an unenviable challenge. The country has been described as an economic basket case.

Mule power

Some 70% of the population is unemployed. Most people do not live beyond 50, and only one in two can read.

Rene Preval
Mr Preval says he would crush gangs linked to Mr Aristide
The United Nation's special envoy to Haiti, Juan Gabriel Valdes, expects the UN to be playing a role in stabilising Haiti for several decades to come.

"The path of progress is a long one," he says.

However, there are fears that voting on Tuesday's could be chaotic.

Pierre Esperance, who heads one of the country's main human rights organisations, says people do not have enough information.

He himself has not yet been told the right place to cast his vote.

As there could well be thunderstorms on voting day, a plan to distribute ballots by helicopter has been scrapped at the last minute, in favour of transporting them around the country by a team of nearly 300 mules.


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