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17944: (Chamberlain) Haiti leader calls for ballot, opposition skeptical (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Amy Bracken

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Haitian President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide called for parliamentary elections within six months
to overcome a bloody standoff with his foes, but the opposition said on
Wednesday the ground had not been prepared for a free and fair ballot.
     Civil activists and political opponents said Aristide's appeal after
meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush at the Summit of the Americas in
Mexico was meant to appease foreign critics of his rule over the region's
poorest country.
     "Aristide knows it's impossible to do elections in six months," said
Gerard Pierre-Charles, leader of the opposition political party
Organization for People in the Struggle.
     "There is no chance of free, democratic elections. They would be
fraudulent elections."
     Once a hugely popular former Roman Catholic priest, Aristide became
Haiti's first democratically elected leader in 1991 only to be deposed in a
coup soon after. He was restored to power by a U.S.-led invasion and
reelected in 2000.
     But his popularity has waned following the tainted results of
parliamentary elections that year, and amid accusations of corruption and
political violence.
     Several people have been killed in recent months after increasingly
large anti-government marches were attacked by pro-Aristide gunmen. The
government blames the opposition for the bloodshed.
     The Organization of American States has urged Haiti to hold new
parliamentary elections, under the supervision of a multi-party council,
but the absence of dialogue has prevented that. The terms of most
legislators expired on Monday, rendering Parliament powerless.
     Aristide told reporters on Tuesday he had discussed a recent Catholic
Church peace plan, which would pave the way for a new vote, with President
Bush in Monterrey, Mexico.
     The plan, which calls for the inclusion of civil society and
opposition parties in some government functions, was first rejected by the
Lavalas party as a church-sponsored coup.
     In an abrupt turn, Aristide last month said he was willing to discuss
the proposal, while the opposition, as well as a prominent Haitian bishop,
said it was too late for dialogue.
     At the Summit of the Americas, Aristide said he hoped the opposition
would meet with him and members of the international community in the
Bahamas later in January.
     "My wish is that that meeting create a wonderful opportunity for my
fellow countrymen, my brothers from the opposition, to have a good
dialogue," he said. "That dialogue may be one more step towards compromise,
towards elections."
     Evans Paul, leader of opposition party the Confederation of Democratic
Unity, said on Wednesday he did not know if the opposition would send a
representative to the Bahamas.
     "We are OK with elections and dialogue," he said. "But the obstacle is