Bill Clinton due in Haiti amid threat of new unrest

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Former US president Bill Clinton was due in cholera-hit Haiti Wednesday after calling for an "objective" recount in disputed presidential elections, as one candidate warned of new protests.

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 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 island 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.

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 meeting had been scheduled to be held in Haiti, but was moved to the Dominican Republic due to the deadly post-election unrest.

Clinton was to arrive Wednesday in Haiti to visit a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) cholera center and meet with health officials.

By Friday, the cholera toll had begun to taper off, with almost 2,200 people dead from 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 water and food remains a daily struggle.

Concerns about the origin of the epidemic have swirled, with many blaming Nepalese peacekeepers.

Alain LeRoy, head of the UN peacekeeping department, said the United Nations would name an international panel to investigate and identify the source of the infections.

"The source of this outbreak has been critically important for us," LeRoy told reporters, insisting that the UN mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, has been "totally transparent" over the cholera source.

Clinton, who was the UN envoy to Haiti before the earthquake, co-chaired the fourth meeting of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), which late Tuesday approved 430 million dollars in new post-quake aid projects for the country.

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.

But it heard complaints by participants including Dominican President Leonel Fernandez about the glacial pace of translating financial commitments into tangible aid on the ground.

Clinton said some 2.6 billion dollars in projects has been approved, but IHRC figures show that as of December 10 only about 10 percent of that funding had been disbursed.

Spain and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) meanwhile Wednesday announced a joint 20-million-dollar donation to help Haiti battle the cholera outbreak, with funding for a network of 2,000 mobile rehydration points, 190 treatment stations and ten specialized centers set up in priority areas.

Days of street protests erupted when official results last week showed Martelly losing out on a place in the January 16 presidential run-off to Jude Celestin by fewer than 7,000 votes.

After days of calm, Martelly warned on Wednesday that his supporters could again hit the streets.

"I'm telling you, if they come back to us with bad solutions, the people are going to take to the streets," he told AFP.

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 former first lady who topped the poll -- are refusing to be part of it.


© 2010 AFP

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