BILL CLINTON TO VISIT HAITI, URGES VOTE RECOUNT
(AFP) - By Clarens Renois
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Former US president Bill Clinton was to visit cholera-hit Haiti Wednesday, hours after calling for an "objective" recount in disputed presidential elections which triggered days of riots here.
Top Organization of American States (OAS) officials were also en route to try to resolve a tense post-election stalemate, which has plunged the impoverished Caribbean nation into more political upheaval.
The election commission has ordered a review of the November 28 vote in which the ruling party's handpicked protege ousted a popular singer, Michel Martelly, from the running to be the next president.
But Clinton warned Tuesday that any recount should be done carefully, as an unfair result could doom efforts to rebuild the nation, still struggling to rebuild after the January quake killed 250,000 and left 1.3 million homeless.
"They have agreed I think, the commission, to have a second look at the votes with objective and informed observers," he told journalists in the Dominican Republic, which neighbors Haiti on the isle of Hispaniola.
Haitian President Rene Preval has asked the Washington-based OAS to send experts to help any recount after he was warned his nation risked a US aid freeze amid mounting international frustration at the situation.
"Faced with difficulties resulting from the first round of the elections and in the hope of reassuring all the actors, the president of the republic asked the OAS to send two technical missions," Preval's office said in a statement.
One team includes OAS assistant secretary general Albert Ramdin, who said the organization would examine Preval's requests "as fast as possible."
"But before we can determine exactly what kind of technical assistance, I need to talk to people on the ground, all the candidates, especially the top three," Ramdin told AFP before flying to Haiti.
OAS involvement "may offer the best opportunity for the people of Haiti to accept the result," Clinton said after chairing a Haiti reconstruction meeting in Santo Domingo.
"We need an objective view of this count."
The reconstruction meeting had been scheduled to be held in Haiti, but was moved to the Dominican Republic due to the deadly post-election unrest.
Clinton nevertheless was set to travel Wednesday to Haiti to visit a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) cholera center and meet with health officials.
By Friday, the death toll from the deadly cholera outbreak had begun to taper off, with almost 2,200 people said to have succumbed to the disease since mid-October.
But almost 100,000 people have been sickened by the water-borne epidemic in a nation where access to clean, uncontaminated water and food remains a daily struggle.
Clinton, who was the United Nations envoy to Haiti before the earthquake, co-chaired the fourth meeting of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC).
The board -- half Haitian, half foreign -- was set up following the quake to oversee the massive reconstruction effort and holds the purse strings for 10 billion dollars in long-term international aid pledges.
The political unrest has only aggravated the situation.
Days of street protests erupted when official results last week showed Martelly, 49, losing out on a place in the January 16 presidential run-off to Jude Celestin, 48, by fewer than 7,000 votes.
Many opposition supporters accuse Preval of rigging the elections in favor of Celestin, his handpicked successor.
The electoral commission plans a recount of tally sheets in the presence of the three main candidates, but Martelly and Mirlande Manigat -- a 70-year-old former first lady who topped the poll -- are refusing to be part of it.