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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006, 11:19 GMT
Monitors praise Haiti election
Residents of a slum line up to cast their vote in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Crowds of people were forced to wait for hours at some polling stations
International monitors have praised the running of Haiti's general election, as vote-counting gets under way.

The head of the Organisation of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, said voting was satisfactory despite a chaotic start.

At least three people died and dozens were injured in crushes at polling stations or altercations with police.

It is the first vote since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted a year ago. Results are due on Friday.

People in Haiti - the poorest country in the Americas - were choosing a new president, as well as a 129-member parliament.

The front-runners are Rene Preval, a former ally of Mr Aristide who is popular with the poor, and Charles Henry Baker, a businessman.

If none of the candidates achieves a 50% majority, the two best-placed candidates will compete in a run-off.

The BBC's Claire Marshall, in Haiti, says the issue now is whether the outcome will be seen as free and fair.

Delays

The chief European observer, Johan Van Hecke, said early logistical problems had been resolved, while the United Nations special envoy, Juan Gabriel Valdes, praised Haitians for turning out in large numbers.

A US government spokesman said Haiti's election appeared "pretty successful" and said the US would work with whoever is elected.

Polls closed several hours later than expected. Voting was extended because some polling stations in the capital, Port-Au-Prince, failed to open on time.

HAITI FACTS
Life expectancy: 51 years
Population below poverty line: 65%
Adult literacy rate: 52%
Source: UNDP

This led to shoving and stampedes, with angry voters trying to force their way in. Among the victims was a police officer who was lynched by a mob, the authorities said.

Many impoverished supporters of Mr Preval alleged that it was all a plot to see their candidate defeated.

But the electoral authorities denied this, and appealed for calm. Thousands of armed UN troops were deployed to watch over the election process, which has been delayed several times.

Despite the presence of peacekeepers, the country has continued to be blighted by political and criminal violence and instability.

Aristide return?

Mr Aristide was first elected in 1990, but within a year he was overthrown, and replaced by a succession of military governments.

Voters force they way past UN soldiers at a polling station in Haiti
Voters vented their anger
The US, backed by the UN, intervened in 1994 to restore order.

In the elections that followed, Mr Aristide was barred from standing, but Mr Preval, his close ally, took nearly 90% of the vote.

Mr Aristide later returned to power, but he was forced out in early 2004 when opposition to his rule grew increasingly violent. He remains in exile in South Africa.

Mr Preval has told the BBC that Mr Aristide may return if he wishes, but that he will not tolerate the violent groups that pledge him allegiance.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the chaotic scenes at the Haitian polls



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