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Sunday, 9 July, 2000, 01:11 GMT 02:11 UK
Haiti returns to polls
Tyres on fire outside the US embassy in Port-au-Prince
Foreign condemnation of the first round sparked violent protests
By Latin America correspondent Peter Greste

Haiti is pressing ahead with Sunday's second round of congressional and local elections despite widespread international criticism of the way the first round was counted.

International observers have pulled out in protest and the opposition has called for a boycott of the elections, which could hardly be more important for Haiti.

If they work, they will restore the first functioning national government in three years and free up $500m in foreign aid that was frozen after President Rene Preval sacked both the Congress and the Senate last year.

But if the elections fail, Haiti could be plunged back into the political anarchy and chaos that has plagued the country for much of the past decade.

Vote 'flaws'

Things looked promising enough after the first round of voting last month.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Mr Aristide's party is expected to win a majority of seats

Turnout was unexpectedly high and most observers said there was very little evidence of fraud.

But it was in the count that things started to go wrong.

The president of the electoral council fled the country rather than put his name to the official results for the Senate, which handed 16 of the 19 vacant seats to Family Lavalas, the party of the former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) declared that the figures were simply wrong and withdrew its observer mission in protest - and the UN, the US, Canada and France have all condemned the process as deeply flawed.

Lavalas support

In the 83-member Chamber of Deputies, the official figures gave Lavalas 26 seats, with another 46 to be decided in the second round.

The remainder are from a district that held its vote later than the rest of the country and they are still being counted.

But most observers also say Lavalas is the only party with widespread support - thanks largely to Mr Aristide's own popularity - and they are expected to win the majority of seats still to be decided.

Haiti is almost certain to get some sort of elected administration after this vote, but it is still not clear how well it will be able to function, or if it will get the international recognition the country desperately needs.

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See also:

08 Jul 00 | Americas
Haiti poll monitors pull out
20 Jun 00 | Americas
Haiti election results challenged
09 Jun 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Haitians yearn for stability
06 Apr 00 | Americas
UN Haiti mission in peril
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