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Fears of violence in Haiti as elections begin

Campaign teams attacked, journalists ambushed and murders have spiked ahead of Haiti elections.

The U.N. mission in Haiti — which has 9,000 soldiers and more than 3,000 police officers on the ground — is confident the election can be carried out fairly, Bile said.

With the assistance of the United Nations, the Haitian electoral commission established more than 11,000 polling stations in 1,500 districts. Some of those stations are so remote that the ballots will be transported back toward Port-au-Prince “by donkey,” said Andre Leclerc, spokesman for the U.N. police.

The results are not likely to be finalized until Dec. 7. A run-off presidential vote will be held on Jan. 16 unless one candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote Sunday, an unlikely prospect considering that 19 candidates are running.

Manigat, Celestin, Baker, Ceant and a few others lead the field, according to recent polls. A winner might not be declared until as late as Feb. 5, just two days before the inauguration.

More than 4.5 million Haitians are registered to vote Sunday, but the threat of violence is a potential deterrent.

“We have always seen violence around the elections,” Baptiste said. “People are traumatized.”

The November 1987 vote was one the most violent, he said. At least 34 people were shot dead by troops. Fresh off the rule of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier — a dictator who took over the country from his father and ruled until 1986 — military leaders were trying to regain control.

Politics and elections have since been marked by military coups and violence.

“The populace associates the elections with violence. It’s a natural thing to do considering our history,” said Francois Pierre-Louis, a Haitian-American and professor at CUNY who is advising presidential candidate Jacques-Edouard Alexis in the election.

Earlier this month, a van carrying Haitian journalists en route to cover a campaign stop by Alexis was attacked. “They shot the driver and then they chased the journalists into the woods,” he said.

Pierre-Louis said he received a call from one of the reporters that night. He then advised the local U.N. office. By night’s end, two armed men were arrested for the attack. A third was shot dead by Haitian police.

Leclerc confirmed the attack took place but said it was random and not tied to the election. Pierre-Louis thinks it was a hit designed to intimidate journalists.

"Will we see more violence on election day this year? I hope not, but I don’t have many reasons to be hopeful," he said.