Haiti waits to hear if Wyclef Jean can run for president

Port-au-Prince: Haitians are to learn Tuesday whether hip-hop star Wyclef Jean meets the legal requirements to run for president in a country devastated by one of the world`s worst natural disasters.

Jean is one of 34 Haitians who have lined up to run for the presidency, a measure of the office`s powerful allure despite the widespread misery and seemingly insurmountable problems worsened by a January 12 earthquake that leveled the capital.

The vote, scheduled for November 28, is the first since the earthquake, which killed at least 250,000 people and left 1.5 million without homes. The winner will replace President Rene Preval, who is prohibited from seeking another term.

"The definitive list of candidates for the presidency will be published Tuesday afternoon," Pierre Thibolt, communications director of the provisional election council told AFP.

Security barricades have gone up around the council`s headquarters in Petionville, a Port-au-Prince suburb, amid rumors that the council will eliminate some of the presidential hopefuls, possibly including Jean.

A Port-au-Prince radio station, Radio Vision 2000, said members of the provisional council met Monday evening with Preval about the candidates.

"Everything seems to be turning on Wyclef`s candidacy, whether it will be rejected or approved," the station said.

The Grammy-winning former Fugees frontman has little experience in politics but casts his insurgent bid as a chance to save a country brought to its knees by poverty, mismanagement and the earthquake.

But he faces challenges on whether he meets residency requirements after having lived in the United States for years, and about taxes he owes there.

Actor Sean Penn, who runs a 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 Tuesday, the New York Times spotlighted a history of poor financial management at Jean`s Yele Haiti charity, including a 250,000 dollar payment it made to a television station that the singer and a cousin had recently acquired.

In a statement, Jean acknowledged "missteps" at the charity before the earthquake but called claims that 250,000 dollars were misappropriated an "outright falsity" circulated by disgruntled former employees.

"Unhappy former employees, old rumors and long negated claims are simply distractions at this crucial juncture, when my advisers and I need total focus on the Haitian situation," he said.

His supporters have brushed aside the other concerns raised with the election council.

"We have proved that Mr. Jean had residency in Haiti where he is also a majority shareholder in a television station. The financial statements in the United States cannot be dealt with in Haiti," said Joel Petit-Homme, one of Jean`s lawyers.

"The electoral office of disputes has already decided in our favor and now no political influence can stop Mr. Jean from seeking Haiti`s presidency," he added.

Jean arrived back in Haiti on Saturday, and toured Haiti`s south before arriving Monday in his stronghold, Croix des Bouquet, near the capital, where aides said he was awaiting the council`s decision to begin his campaign.

In the streets of Port-au-Prince, the singer`s supporters have covered walls with slogans appealing to the country`s youth to support Jean`s candidacy.

Eight other candidates besides Jean face challenges on their qualifications to run for president.

Numerous opposition parties have refused to participate in the legislative and presidential vote schedule for November, calling instead for strikes and the dismissal of the provisional electoral council.

The vote is expected to cost some 29 million dollars, and will be mostly financed by the international community, which has promised to deliver 10 billion dollars over five years to help Haiti with reconstruction.

The World Bank, meanwhile, announced it hopes to raise 500 million dollars to rebuild and expand Haiti`s educational system, which was devastated by the quake.

It expects to disburse an initial 50 million dollars to repair schools damaged by the quake.

Bureau Report

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