Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Jan 30, 2011
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left for Haiti on Sunday in a bid to smooth its course towards a final vote after disputed first-round elections shook the earthquake-ravaged country.
Clinton was to meet President Rene Preval and the candidates vying to succeed him in disputed November polls, including his handpicked candidate, who has been urged to step down over fraud allegations.
But she told reporters shortly before takeoff that Washington backed the recommendations of international monitors, who have urged the ruling party candidate, Jude Celestin, to exit the race.
She will "consult with members of civil society, political actors, Haiti's president and international partners on the ongoing electoral situation as well as reconstruction efforts," her spokesman Philip Crowley said.
Clinton will meet Edmond Mulet, the special representative of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who urged the world not to abandon Haiti when the anniversary of the quake was marked just over two weeks ago.
Clinton, who traveled to Haiti days after the catastrophic quake killed more than 220,000 people, also planned to visit a cholera clinic to highlight the outbreak that has killed 4,000 people since mid-October.
"The United States and Haiti share the mutual commitment to building Haiti anew after the devastating earthquake one year ago, and to ensure a strong future for Haiti's people and its democracy," Crowley said in a statement.
Clinton was expected to arrive in Haiti around midday (1700 GMT).
Little has been rebuilt since the January 2010 earthquake flattened large swathes of the capital, including the presidential palace, and the elections that were supposed to bring renewed hope kicked off deadly riots in December.
Haiti's election commission has said it will announce definitive results from the first round on Wednesday and has scheduled a long-delayed second round for March 20, with those results to be announced April 16.
The announcement of preliminary first round results last month kicked off days of unrest when Preval's protege Jude Celestin narrowly edged a popular singer out of the second round run-off.
According to preliminary results from the November 28 poll, Celestin garnered 7,000 more votes than Michel Martelly, securing a place in the run-off against the frontrunner, former first lady Mirlande Manigat.
Within hours of the announcement, protests swept Haitian towns, leaving five dead and the country in crisis as opposition candidates accused Preval and the electoral commission of rigging the poll.
A team of international monitors from the Organization of American States (OAS) called in by Preval found widespread vote tampering and fraud in Celestin's favor and recommended that he withdraw.
The ruling party has since bowed to weeks of US-led pressure and widespread allegations of fraud, announcing that Celestin would not advance to the next round. But Celestin himself has not yet confirmed his exit.
Clinton said Washington had "made it very clear we support the OAS recommendations. We would like to see them acted on."
She added that there were no plans to suspend US aid over the weeks-long crisis.
Haitians had hoped the presidential and parliamentary elections would bring a new leadership that could rebuild the country.
The international community pledged almost 10 billion dollars to reconstruct Haiti, but donors have held back on delivering most of the funds because of the tenuous political situation.
Clinton's husband, former US president Bill Clinton, who has represented international donors in the recovery effort, said he was "frustrated" with the slow pace of rebuilding during a visit to Haiti earlier this month.
The tense political standoff was thrown into further confusion two weeks ago by the surprise return of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, a former strongman driven out by massive protests 25 years ago.
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