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Last Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006, 02:26 GMT
Ex-Aristide ally leads Haiti poll
Rene Preval
Rene Preval is popular with the poor in Haiti
Former President Rene Preval, a one-time ally of ousted leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has taken a strong early lead in Haiti's election.

Initial results from around the Haitian capital show he has more than 60% of the votes, electoral officials say.

Another ex-leader, Leslie Manigat, has 13.8%, while industrialist Charles Henry Baker has 6.1%, results show.

The first election since Mr Aristide fled the country two years ago has been hailed by international observers.

They praised the absence of political violence during Tuesday's election, which had been postponed several times.

Haitians were also commended for turning out in large numbers, and showing patience with long queues outside polling stations.

At least three people died in crushes at stations or in altercations with police.

The country - the poorest in the Americas - is choosing a 129-member parliament as well as a new president.

Aristide return?

Early counting in the west department, which includes the populous capital Port-au-Prince, gives Mr Preval 65.9% of the votes, the Provisional Electoral Council said on Thursday.

Such a strong showing suggests there may be no need for a run-off, which would be carried out between the two best-placed candidates if none achieve a 50% majority.

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

Sixty-three-year-old Mr Preval, who was president from 1996 to 2001, had been expected to do well in the capital, particularly in the shanty towns. Like Mr Aristide, he is popular with the poor.

The US ambassador in Haiti, Tim Carney, says a possible victory by Mr Preval will not affect ties with Washington.

"None of the frontrunners are problematic for the US government to deal with," he said.

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

In the elections that followed, Mr Aristide was barred from standing, but his ally Mr Preval 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.


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