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UN Secretary-General Hoping for Smooth Haiti Elections

An electoral worker speaks on a telephone to relay information about election polling centers to residents in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 16, 2011

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he hopes Haiti's presidential runoff elections this Sunday will proceed smoothly and in a credible and transparent manner.

Speaking Wednesday in Guatemala City, Ban described Haiti as a fragile nation in need of a stable government which can be an effective partner in reconstruction and sustainable development. The secretary-general made his remarks during a meeting with regional leaders of Central America.

The March 20 presidential runoff pits former first lady Mirlande Manigat against pop singer Michel Martelly.

Martelly was initially excluded from the runoff until international observers reviewed the first round results and recommended he advance to the second round instead of the ruling party candidate, Jude Celestin. The observers cited fraud and irregularities in the first round of balloting, which took place in November.

Celestin was later dropped from the runoff. The person who wins Sunday's vote will succeed outgoing President Rene Preval.

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest country. The Caribbean nation is struggling to recover from a devastating January 2010 earthquake which left more than 200,000 people dead. Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in tent cities. The country also is struggling with a cholera epidemic that broke out last October, leaving thousands dead.

Ban noted, however, that there are signs the epidemic is finally coming under control.

The secretary-general's visit to Guatemala included meetings Wednesday with President Alvaro Colom. Ban traveled to the Central American nation to discuss issues such as human rights and crime.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.