VANUATU LAUNCHES ELECTION POLICE OPERATION

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PORT VILA, Vanuatu (March 5, 1998 - Radio Australia)---Authorities in Vanuatu have launched a special police operation to ensure a trouble free election Friday.

Radio Australia Pacific correspondent Richard Dinnen reports the election follows a long period of political instability.

"Parliament was dissolved by the President, Jean Marie Leye, late last year, a move unsuccessfully challenged by the courts.

"There were riots in the capital, Port Vila, in January and the caretaker government is being careful to prevent any trouble on Friday. More than 400 police and Vanuatu mobile force officers will be deployed around the country to ensure the election runs smoothly. The operation has been dubbed "elite '98", and its main focus will be in Port Vila and the northern town of Luganville.

"As an extra precaution, the sale of alcohol has been banned until after the polls close.

"Alleged government corruption has been the major issue during the election campaign which ended last night.

"The allegations of corruption which have been made by Vanuatu's Ombudsman, Marie-Noelle Ferrieux-Patterson, would be enough to bring down any government. But it remains to be seen whether they'll change Vanuatu's traditional political allegiances sufficiently to bring about a change of government. It's expected the ruling Union of Moderate Parties will lose votes but with a record 220 candidates standing, including 63 Independents, it's almost impossible to predict the result."

Meantime, Vanuatu's Minister of Finance, Willy Jimmy, has warned the country's traditional chiefs to stay out of politics.

Richard Dinnen reports that "Mr. Jimmy believes traditional chiefs are urging people to vote against the Union and he's warned the chiefs to stay out of politics. In a strongly worded broadcast he said chiefs are supposed to remain neutral and by entering into the political arena they risk damaging the culture, traditions and custom law of Vanuatu.

"He says if the chiefs are telling people how to vote then they are acting as dictators in their communities."

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