- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday urged Haitians to vote in November elections for a new leadership that would result in an internationally recognized and legitimate government.

Miss Rice also called on the interim government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue to speed up efforts to get the electoral process under way, underscoring the need for an open, inclusive and fair election.

“I know that many of you have registered to vote; I hope that when the day comes you exercise that vote … and reclaim your right to elect a new democratic leader,” Miss Rice said during a press conference with Mr. Latortue.

Miss Rice ruled out any chance that former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was flown to exile by the U.S. when Haiti exploded in violence in February 2004, would participate in the ballot.

The international community, she said, “is of one mind that it would not be a good thing for Mr. Aristide to return. I think it is very clear that the Haitian people are moving on.”

Miss Rice said supporters of Mr. Aristide’s Lavalas party should be allowed to participate in the vote.

Miss Rice was whisked to the Haitian presidential palace from the airport in a U.N. helicopter under heavily armed guard. It flew over miles of concrete-gray slums — the home of violent gangs that could disrupt the voting process.

In the palace, the secretary spoke with Mr. Latortue and interim President Boniface Alexandre on the importance of making the election work. The first round of elections is scheduled for Nov. 20, with a run-off set for January.

“The real message to the people of Haiti is that this is an election that could be a turning point,” Miss Rice said.

Haiti is one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world. Corrupt leaders and decades of violence have left the country with few jobs and resources.

A senior State Department official, speaking just before the secretary’s one-day visit, acknowledged that the challenges to bringing about a constitutionally elected government in Haiti were “enormous.”

“The Haitian state needs to be recreated,” the official said.

About 900 people have been killed in Haiti since last September, when violence erupted nationwide among political factions, disbanded military personnel and armed gangs.

About 6,200 U.N. troops and 1,200 police are expected to provide security for both rounds of the elections.

But the blue-helmeted force in the past has had difficulties quelling the gangs that rampage across several Haitian cities.

Of 32 candidates for the presidency, about seven are considered front-runners.

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