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UN calls for calm in Haiti after Jean candidacy rejected

UN peacekeepers in Haiti appealed for calm on Saturday after electoral officials rejected international hip-hop star Wyclef Jean's candidacy in Haiti's November 28 presidential election.

world Updated: Aug 22, 2010 08:23 IST

UN peacekeepers in Haiti appealed for calm on Saturday after electoral officials rejected international hip-hop star Wyclef Jean's candidacy in Haiti's November 28 presidential election.

Jean, who has a strong following among Haiti's youth, was the best known of the 15 candidates disqualified from running.

Haitian police and UN peacekeepers nervously stood guard outside the offices of Haiti's electoral council. Despite fears of unrest, however, the city appeared calm.

The presidential and legislative election is scheduled for November 28 in a country still recovering from a devastating January 12 earthquake that killed at least 250,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) called "on political parties and candidates participating in presidential elections to respect the laws prescribed in the Elections Act."

The peacekeepers also asked the parties to urge their members to behave with "the greatest serenity and respect for voters" during the electoral process.

There are 13,000 soldiers and police with MINUSTAH, assisted by 2,000 civilians.

Jean "was a threat to the candidate endorsed by the party in power, but more broadly, a threat to the entire political class because his candidacy had attracted a lot of attention," former legislator Emmanuel Wesner told AFP.

The electoral council late on Friday authorised 19 candidates to run in the presidential election. Those rejected included all of the Haitians living abroad, including Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States who is also Wyclef Jean's uncle.

Authorised candidates include Jude Celestin -- endorsed by President Rene Preval, who cannot run for re-election -- former prime minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, and singer Michel Martelly.

The Organisation of American States said its observer mission in Haiti backed the election council's action in general terms, but said it should have been clearer about its reasons for disqualifying candidates.

"The conclusion of this phase marks a key stage in the electoral process. The mission calls on all the actors involved to maintain their efforts in favor of credible, transparent and participatory elections," it said.

Jean issued a statement late Friday reaffirming his commitment to the rule of law.

"Though I disagree with the ruling, I respectfully accept the committee's final decision, and I urge my supporters to do the same," Jean said.

"Though the board has determined that I am not a resident of Haiti, home is where the heart is -- and my heart has and will always be in Haiti," Jean said in the statement.

"We must respect the rule of law in order for our island to become the great nation we all aspire for it to be," he said.

However in a phone interview broadcast on CNN on Saturday, Jean said that he was surprised by the ruling.

"This has come to our party and to our group as a total shock," he told CNN.

The Grammy Award-winning musician lives in the New York area but spent his first nine years in Haiti. He traveled back to his homeland multiple times before the catastrophic January 12 earthquake, in a bid to help defuse violence in gang-infested slums and help the most disadvantaged Haitians.

The singer was a no-show at a press conference that he called for at his residence on Saturday afternoon.

A neighbor said they saw Jean Saturday morning in tears "because he did not understand why he is excluded."

A group of fans held an impromptu rally outside the star's home. "We will not vote without Wyclef," several chanted.

Jean "did a lot for us around the neighborhood with its Foundation (Yéle Haiti) and was prepared to do more for the country, but was not given a chance," complained one woman.

Critics say that Jean's track record at helping Haiti has been spotty.

US actor Sean Penn, who runs a 55,000-person tent camp for the homeless in Haiti, and others have accused Jean of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised after the earthquake for a charity he ran.

In a report on Tuesday, The New York Times spotlighted a history of poor financial management at Jean's Yele Haiti charity, including a 250,000-dollar payment made to a television station that the singer and a cousin had recently acquired.

Jean acknowledged "missteps" at the charity before the earthquake but rejected claims of misappropriated funds.

First Published: Aug 22, 2010 08:19 IST