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Wyclef Jean Says Threats Won't Deter Candidacy

"People think I'm a threat to their power and ambitions."


PORT-AU-PRINCE - Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean said on Wednesday he had received death threats but they would not deter him from running for president of his native Haiti.

"There are people who think I'm a threat to their power and ambitions. I'm not going to give up. My will is to serve the Haitian people, and the death threats and intimidation won't deter me," Jean told Reuters.

Haiti's provisional electoral council had been due to finalize on Tuesday the list of candidates who met the legal requirements to stand in the November 28 election that will choose a successor to President Rene Preval.

The announcement was delayed until Friday to allow more time to decide on legal questions about several of the 34 contenders, among them Jean.

Singer-songwriter Jean, 40, said he had received anonymous phone calls threatening that he would be killed unless he left Haiti. He was in hiding and has not appeared in public for two days, but sounded defiant.

"There are many people who died before me. If I have to die for the Haitian people, for the youth, I'm ready to die for them," Jean said.

He is widely popular in his impoverished Caribbean homeland, which is struggling to recover from a devastating January 12 earthquake that killed up to 300,000 people and wrecked much of the coastal capital Port-au-Prince.

Haiti's electoral law requires candidates to have five consecutive years of residency in Haiti, among other requirements, such as tax compliance.

Jean left his homeland at age 9 to go to the United States, where he launched and developed his international musical career. His lawyers have said he is eligible to run and has maintained residency for more than five years in Haiti.

Legal challenges also have been raised against several other candidates, including Jacques Edouard Alexis, a former two-time prime minister, and Leslie Voltaire, a U.S.-educated urban planner and former minister who has been heavily involved in Haiti's post-quake reconstruction.

Jean has rebuffed criticisms that he lacks the experience and qualifications to be president, arguing that Haiti needs an international figure who can attract aid and allies.

He said his police security detail had recently been withdrawn without notice.

Police Chief Mario Andresol said that protection had been provided while Jean served as Haiti's ambassador at large, and because of his celebrity. But it ended when Jean became a candidate because police would then have been obliged to provide the same security for all candidates, he said.

"If there is a specific threat, we'll respond accordingly, but we have to be neutral and treat all candidates the same way," Andresol said.

What Jean may lack in political experience he may make up for in popularity. He is admired by many Haitians, especially the young, who see him as a celebrity who never forgot his roots. Several Haitian youth organizations and Creole music groups are supporting his campaign as a candidate for the Viv Ansan-m party.

The three-time Grammy award-winner has said he will put his musical career on hold if his candidacy is approved.

Preval, who has been widely criticized at home over his handling of the response to the earthquake disaster, cannot run for re-election after serving two terms.