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Haitian President Marks Independence With Pledge of Fair Elections

Haitian President Rene Preval says the Caribbean country's upcoming legislative elections will be fair.

President Preval made the pledge Friday in the city of Gonaives in a speech marking Haiti's Independence Day.

The first round of voting is scheduled for February 28.

Haiti's electoral council has banned the political party, Fanmi Lavalas, of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from taking part in the vote, saying it submitted improper documents. The decision has drawn criticism from the former president, who was overthrown in a 2004 rebellion and is living in exile in South Africa.

The Fanmi Lavalas party - which is widely backed by Haiti's poor - has been barred from previous elections over other alleged failures to meet legal requirements.

The presidentially appointed electoral council also has disqualified more than a dozen political groups from the process.

Also Friday, Mr. Preval said he would use his last year of his five-year presidential term to boost agriculture and improve roads. The annual address in the city of Gonaives marked Haiti's independence from France on January 1, 1804, after a slave revolt.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement congratulating the people of Haiti as they celebrate the 206th anniversary of the country's independence.

Secretary Clinton also saluted the many contributions Haitian-Americans have made to the culture and prosperity of the United States.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.