Canadian embassy closes in Haiti amidst rioting

PORT-AU-PRINCE—Haiti’s electoral council will re-count the vote in the country’s disputed election in view of election monitors and potentially the three leading candidates themselves, the council president said Thursday.

The decision follows rioting sparked by the announcement that government-backed candidate Jude Celestin and former first lady Mirlande Manigat were poised to enter a January runoff, while entertainer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly had apparently been narrowly eliminated.

Council president Gaillot Dorsainvil read a statement on Haitian radio saying that tally sheets would be re-counted with international observers and electoral officials.

“Given the evident dissatisfaction of many voters, protests and violence that followed the publication of preliminary results,” the Provisional Electoral Council has decided to start a re-count immediately, he said.

Dorsainvil said it would be overseen by a commission including the electoral council, domestic and foreign observers and the three main candidates if they wish.

Nearly all 19 candidates, all of whom received votes on the Nov. 28 ballot, have said fraud tainted the results. A coalition of at least 10 candidates reiterated their call Thursday for the vote to be thrown out.

The Canadian embassy in the Haitian capital closed on Thursday along with many other embassies because the protests made it impossible for staff to get to and from work safely.

Martelly’s supporters again paralyzed streets in the capital on Thursday, piling earthquake rubble into barricades and squaring off with police and U.N. peacekeepers. On Wednesday, the candidate told his supporters to continue demonstrating, and a campaign manager said he would legally challenge the announced results.

Radio Signal-FM reported that a group of armed men posing as a musical group fired on a crowd on the Champ de Mars, injuring several people and killing as many as three. A witness confirmed that shooting had occurred and said several people were killed.

Radio Kiskeya had said earlier in an unconfirmed report that at least four demonstrators were killed — three in Les Cayes, about 195 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince in the country’s southern peninsula, and one in the northern city of Cap-Haitien.

The protests arise mostly from widespread anger at outgoing President Rene Preval, much of it re-directed at his preferred successor, Celestin, the head of the state-run construction company. Protesters set fire to the headquarters of Preval’s Unity party, traded blows with U.N. peacekeepers and shut down the country’s lone international airport.

Preval urged candidates to call off the protests on Wednesday. He acknowledged there had been fraud in the election, but said it was typical of elections around the world.

His own election was also decided through riots in 2006.

Backed by supporters of ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been ousted two years before, Preval was swept into office when widespread rioting forced the cancellation of a second-round vote through a compromise that gave him more than 50 per cent of the vote.

Those supporters turned on him when he failed to bring Aristide, his former mentor, back from South African exile or improve the economy. Riots fueled by high food prices forced out his prime minister in 2008. His popularity bottomed out when Preval disappeared from public sight after the Jan. 12 earthquake and presided over a stalled reconstruction that has helped few people regain homes or income.

“We stood up for Preval then, but now we stand up against him. We thought he would bring us food, education, health … We thought he would stand for the people. But he betrayed us,” said Clarel Meriland, an unemployed 23 year old who took the streets as a teenager in 2006.

In the Nov. 28 vote, thousands of voters could not find their names on rolls still swollen with earthquake dead and there were incidents of violence, ballot-box stuffing and intimidation filmed and photographed by journalists and confirmed by international elections monitors.

Just over 1 million people cast accepted ballots out of some 4.7 million registered voters. It is not known how many ballots were thrown out for fraud.

The election was mandated by Haiti’s constitution. But there were many human-rights advocates who said it should not be held so soon after the earthquake, in the midst of a raging cholera epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives.

The fallout from this week’s violence has shut down cities across Haiti, hindering medical aid workers’ ability to tackle cholera.

Preliminary election results put Celestin ahead of Martelly by just 6,845 votes for second place. Former first lady and law professor Manigat had 31.4 per cent of the vote, while Celestin had 22.5 per cent and Martelly 21.8 per cent.

The top two candidates advance to a Jan. 16 second round.

Manigat also told Haitian radio that she felt her reported vote tally was low. Celestin’s managers said before the election that they had expected both a first-round victory and to be accused of fraud.

American Airlines continued its suspension of flights in and out of the Haitian capital because airport employees were unable to get to work.

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