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Aristide praises election as valid

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is calling Haiti's chaotic election peaceful and a major advance toward democracy.

"This is a major step for my country," he said in an interview Tuesday. "We wanted free, calm, non-violent elections."

Aristide said he didn't believe that irregularities _ including polling stations that didn't open, names missing from voter lists and burned ballots _ would undermine the validity of the voting.

Hours later, Signal FM radio reported that a legislative candidate, Jean-Charles Henoc, was killed in Anse d'Hainault. It was the first report of a candidate slain.

Aristide's Lavalas party is expected to sweep Sunday's elections for more than 2,000 offices, including 101 legislative seats.

"It fed my faith in my people when they kept their cool," Aristide said in the interview. "You could observe their calm. That's a clear sign of political maturity."

"In the United States, you have so many years of elections, so you have a tradition," said Aristide. The performance of the Provisional Electoral Commission, which has been extensively criticized by election observers, will "have to improve, and the country will have to improve," he said, but that can come only with practice.

Ordinary Haitians, meanwhile, went about their business of everyday struggle.

Shoeshiner Wilson Jean Julee's thumb still had an ink stain _ the mark given to voters _ but his vote won't count because the polling place where he cast his ballot was torched Monday morning.

"I think the election should be nullified," Julee said.

In Washington, even the professional observers who traveled to Haiti for the elections disagreed over whether they were free and fair.

Senate Republicans, led by leader Bob Dole, charged the elections were fatally flawed. They pinned much of the blame on President Clinton.

"All reports out of Haiti indicate confusion and chaos in the electoral process," Dole said, singling out Florida Rep. Porter Goss for praise as head of a delegation from the International Republican Institute. "As Chairman Goss' statement noted yesterday, "The Haitian people deserve better.' "

Democratic Sen. Bob Graham went to the Senate floor to defend the White House.

"I do not intend to be naive or Pollyanna-ish, but we as Americans can take pride in what we accomplished," said Graham, who traveled to Haiti as a member of the White House delegation.

He argued that the logistical problems did not benefit any person or political party.

Goss said he and his group had not made any final conclusions on the elections. Still, "It was just total confusion."

_ Information from the Associated Press, New York Times, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and staff writer Ceci Connolly was used in this report.

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