Haitian authorities were expected to postpone elections again on Friday, as the kidnapping of two Organization of American States staffers highlighted the turmoil that plagues the impoverished nation.
The presidential and legislative elections had been scheduled for Jan. 8 after being postponed three times, and authorities have said they hoped to announce a new date before the end of this week.
Preparations for the voting have been mired in disarray. Many of the 3.5 million registered voters have not received their electoral identification cards, while officials have yet to determine the location of the 800 voting offices and the make-up of electoral observer teams.
In addition, violence has continued to rock Haiti since president Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the Caribbean nation on Feb. 29 last year as insurgents closed in on the capital.
A Guatemalan and a Peruvian working for the OAS, as well as the spouse of one of the officials were kidnapped on Thursday a few kilometers from Cite Soleil, a populous and often violent slum on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
In Washington, OAS Secretary General Josi Miguel Insulza, expressed "strong condemnation" of the kidnapping and said the two employees of the pan-American organization were in Haiti to set up technical equipment for the elections.
Kidnappings for ransom have become a daily occurrence in Haiti, where criminal and political violence has flared up in recent months.
A Canadian policeman and a Jordanian soldier, both part of the UN stabilization force, were killed last week.
The Jordanian was shot dead during a patrol of Cite Soleil and the Canadian was killed at a checkpoint just outside the shantytown that is largely controlled by armed gangs.
Cite Soleil is considered a bastion of support for Aristide, and critics claim armed gangs who control much of the slum were given weapons by the ex-president before he stepped down under US and French pressure.
"We are not in a position to guarantee honest and credible elections can be held," Pierre Richard Duchemin of the electoral council said earlier this week.
Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has urged electoral authorities to come up with a "more realistic" date for the balloting.
When the elections are finally held, voters will be asked to choose from among 35 presidential hopefuls, including two ex-presidents and a former rebel leader who had played a key role in ousting Aristide.
One of the few opinion polls that has been made public shows that former president Rene Preval, a longtime Aristide ally, leads the crowded field of candidates with about 30 percent support.
Ironically, the Cid-Gallup poll indicates that the second most popular hopeful is Dumarsais Simeus, a Haitian-American who was bumped off the list of candidates because he holds a US passport, even though the high court said he could run for president.
Former president Leslie Manigat, 75, trails far behind with five percent voter support, while ex-rebel leader Guy Philippe and a few other candidates got 4 percent support in the survey published earlier this month.
Should none of the candidates garner 50 percent of the vote, the election would go to a second round.