Aristide Urges People to Vote; Invites Gangsters to Talk
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ With just a quarter of Haitians registered to vote, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide appealed Wednesday for more support for June elections that will be the first since the end of the dictatorship.
``Don’t be afraid to make peace,″ Aristide told thousands of people gathered in front of police headquarters of the coastal town of Port-de-Paix _ literally ``Port of Peace″ _ 160 miles north of the capital.
His speech was broadcast on Radio Metropole.
The appeal to voters came two days after the government postponed legislative and local elections from June 4 to June 25, responding to political parties’ criticism of the Electoral Council’s management. Runoffs are scheduled for July 16.
Many Haitians, suffering from chronic poverty and frightened by increasing crime, have not registered to vote. The March 28 assassination of opposition lawyer Mireille Durocher Bertin, who had recently formed a right-wing political party, has also kept some parties and candidates from participating.
Only a quarter of the electorate has registered in Haiti’s two most populous departments _ the ones that contain Port-au-Prince and Port-de-Paix. The majority of the electorate registered in 1990, when Aristide won the presidency in a landslide.
In the National Palace on Tuesday, Aristide admonished unregistered voters, saying Haiti has no hope of overcoming instability and poverty if its voters stay away from the polls.
``Without free, democratic, and honest elections, the country has no future,″ he said.
In Port-de-Paix on Wednesday, he also appealed to the demobilized soldiers of the disbanded Haitian army to avoid violence.
``Don’t use the weapons you had when you were in the army to go and steal,″ he said. The crowd cheered.
Many disgruntled former soldiers still have weapons and are widely believed to be responsible for much of a crime wave that has recently plagued the capital.
A U.S.-led multinational force in September disarmed and dismantled the army and returned Aristide from his three-year exile.
Aristide was accompanied to Port-de-Paix by U.S. Ambassador William Swing, U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi and the commanders of the peacekeeping mission _ U.S. Maj. Gen. Joseph Kinzer, who heads the 6,000-member military force, and Canadian police Superintendent Neil Pouliot of the 900-strong civilian police contingent.
The mission replaced the U.S.-led multinational force March 31.