CUTTING HAITI AID WOULD BE A MISTAKE: BILL CLINTON
(Reuters) - By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE - It would be a mistake to suspend earthquake reconstruction aid to Haiti, despite concerns about recent election irregularities, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said on Wednesday.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy called on Washington last week to suspend direct aid to Haiti's government until it ensured a fair and democratic outcome to the elections.
And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Haitian leaders to heed Leahy's remarks and make a more focused effort toward solving Haiti's humanitarian, health and economic problems.
But her husband, who is the United Nations special envoy to Haiti, was asked during a visit to Port-au-Prince whether there was a justification to suspend aid to the Caribbean nation.
"In my opinion, nothing has yet happened which justifies that," Bill Clinton told journalists.
Violent protests broke out across Haiti last week, sparked by allegations of irregularities and fraud in the November 28 presidential elections.
Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council proposed creating a new panel, which would include international observers, to recheck the tally sheets and monitor the run-off election that is expected in January.
Two of the top three candidates have rejected the plan, saying it was unprecedented under Haitian law and did not address the underlying allegations of ballot fraud in the first round of voting.
Bill Clinton, who met privately with Haitian and U.N. officials in Port-au-Prince, said the election had been conducted under difficult circumstances and that "legitimate questions were raised about the way the voting occurred and how the votes were counted."
However, he said, "The electoral commission said these procedures will be reviewed by a panel of outside, independent experts. If that is in fact done, and secondly if the runoff is conducted with others involved in the review while it is conducted, I think it would be a mistake to stop the reconstruction."
Governments and international donors pledged billions of dollars to help chronically impoverished Haiti rebuild after the catastrophic earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and left 1.3 million homeless last January.
"Haiti needs to get off the humanitarian train onto the self-support train," Bill Clinton said. "This what we agreed to do, unless the government does something that forfeits that contract. We should stay on it as strong as we can."
Preliminary results from the first round of voting put former first lady Mirlande Manigat and government technocrat Jude Celestin, a little known protege of outgoing President Rene Preval, in the second round.
The electoral council said popular musician Michel Martelly had placed narrowly third, less than a percentage point behind Celestin.
Manigat and Martelly rejected the plan to recheck the tally sheets, and Martelly has called for a re-vote among all 18 candidates.
(Writing by Jane Sutton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)