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Wyclef Jean excluded from Haiti's presidential race

August 21, 2010

International hip-hop star Wycleff was excluded from Haiti's November presidential election following a long deliberation by the country's electoral council.

The decision, which was announced by council spokesman Richard Dumel late Friday, was immediately accepted by the candidate, who reaffirmed 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 in a statement released after the ruling was announced.

Jean said he had been inspired to run for president because he knew Haiti and believed it could become a great country with the right leadership.

"But, ultimately, 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.

He assured his countrymen he would continue to work for Haiti's renewal.

"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.

Jean was among several dozen presidential candidates who faced challenges to their bids. And although the council did not explain its decision, there had been concerns Jean might not meet residency requirements because he lives primarily in the United States. He also faces questions about US back taxes.

Haiti's November 28 election is still uncertain in the aftermath of a powerful January 12 earthquake that killed at least 250,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.

In an open letter made public before the ruling, Jean said that whatever his own political fate, the world needed to do more to help Haiti, whose already serious woes were multiplied by the catastrophic earthquake.

But critics say that Jean's track record at helping Haiti has been spotty at best.

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.

"He has been virtually silent for those of us in Haiti; he has been a non-presence," Penn told CNN in an interview earlier this month.

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 an earlier statement, Jean acknowledged "missteps" at the charity before the earthquake but said claims of misappropriated funds were an "outright falsity."

"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.

Jean is hugely popular among Haiti's youth, and some 300 of his supporters marched in heavy rain outside the country's electoral office Thursday.

"We are here to defend a just cause -- Wyclef Jean is a Haitian native, he is the candidate of the people, and we want him as our president. He should be in the electoral race," said one young demonstrator.

Jean met on Thursday with Prime Minister Rene Preval, but said the meeting "was not about stepping down."

In a Friday interview with The Miami Herald, Jean said Preval was concerned about alleged death threats against him and asked if he needed more security.

Jean said the president, during the meeting, arranged a call with his presidential pick, Jude Celestin, as a way of showing he did not want any "ugliness" in the upcoming election.

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