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Vote Count Begins in Haiti, Some Still Wait to Cast Ballots
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Vote counting began in Haiti Tuesday in some areas by candlelight, while voters elsewhere were still waiting for their turn to cast ballots in the long-awaited presidential and parliamentary elections.

The elections had drawn an extensive participation of voters who flocked to polling stations and overwhelmed election officials who struggled to maintain order.

"The people have voted massively," said UN special envoy Juan Gabriel Valdes after election officials extended the voting period for several hours.

Voters queued in long lines patiently in the capital outside polling stations which were opened three hours late, defying temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius.

"I don't mind waiting for two, three even four hours, to vote: I have already waited two years," a young Haitian told Xinhua.

But hours-long delays in the opening of many polling stations stirred widespread anger and chaos among voters.

In a polling station in the capital's Sonapi Industrial Area, the atmosphere was once very chaotic, forcing election staff to intervene.

Roadblocks were erected on the street outside the polling station and motorbikes were banned, as motorbikers were said to have committed a large number of murders and assaults in the last elections.

However, there were still three people killed in election-related violence, according to local media.

Two deaths occurred in Gros-Morne in the north of Haiti, while another one was killed and several injured in the capital in stampedes caused by voters trying to get their votes registered in polling stations.

Despite various problems, observers hailed the elections as being free of the political violence many had feared could take place.

EU envoy Juan Gabriel Valdes said he was happy to see long lines of voters during a morning tour of a polling station near the St. Pierre church in Bel-Air.

"It's a victory for democracy, a victory for Haiti," Valdes said. "It's calm, and people are lining up to exercise their right to vote."

The elections, which had been postponed four times, were being observed by the UN, the European Union, the United States' National Institute for Democracy and the International Organization of Francophones.

Opinion polls give former president Rene Garcia Preval a substantial lead.

Haitians were to elect the president, 30 senators and 99 deputies in the elections. To win outright, a presidential candidate has to win more than 50 percent of the votes. Results of the elections are not expected before Friday.

(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2006)

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