PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide made a surprise appearance Friday in the streets of Haiti's capital to show support for one of the top presidential candidates in weekend elections.
Aristide, one of Haiti's most popular and divisive figures, waved to a crowd while standing in a car next to Maryse Narcisse, leader of the Fanmi Lavalas political party founded by the former president. The two were surrounded by people reaching out to them and taking pictures.
Aristide, who fled Haiti on a U.S. plane in February 2004 after a violent uprising that led to his second ouster, has rarely left his house in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Tabarre since returning to the impoverished country in 2011. He appeared in front of his house last month to urge Haitians to vote for Narcisse, but Friday was the first time he went into the streets to support her.
Aristide's public appearance comes amid growing concerns that violence could disrupt Sunday's elections.
A local human rights group warned that the country is not fully prepared for the vote despite assurances from the government that it will be an organized and peaceful process.
"We're in a state of uncertainty," said Pierre Esperance, general executive secretary of the National Human Rights Defense Network. "We don't know if police are going to be providing security ... All these measures the government is announcing, they said that before Aug. 9, and we all saw what happened on Aug. 9."
Haiti held the first round of legislative elections in August, but it was marred by delays and disorder, and voting was cancelled in 25 districts because of violence and intimidation.
The country is now holding the first-round presidential vote Sunday along with voting on legislative races and local offices. Candidates had until midnight Friday to campaign, and security forces were preparing for a crowd expected in downtown Port-au-Prince at a Friday night rally for Jude Celestin, one of the leading presidential candidates.
Pre-election violence has flared in recent weeks, with two pregnant women and at least 13 other people being killed in and around the Cite Soleil slum in Haiti's capital.
Officials with the National Human Rights Defense Network said police were unresponsive to the violence and said the police chief lacked full control over certain tactical units.
"The voters have lost complete confidence in participating in these elections," said Edouard Paultre, who runs the Haitian Council of Non-State Actors.
Among those voters is 19-year-old student Guerrier Jean Kerby, who said he would not participate in Sunday's election despite having a favorite candidate he declined to identify.
"I don't see enough stability or security," he said. "It's like you have to be camouflaged to go out and vote. I'm not going."
Authorities have said they will deploy 10,000 Haitian police across the country to ensure calm, along with some 2,500 U.N. soldiers. Haiti has about 5.8 million registered voters and plans to open roughly 13,700 voting centers.
Haiti's U.N. peacekeeping mission said Friday that the elections are needed to bring more stability to the country so it can overcome its challenges.
"It is of the utmost importance that all necessary measures are taken to prevent violence and intimidation and to punish all those responsible," it said.
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