Sat, Dec 11, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Haitian political violence escalates


Haitians prepared for armed clashes and more days of flaming barricades as rival candidates called on supporters to take to streets and tip the balance in a sharply disputed presidential election.

Gunfire ripped through post-earthquake shanties near the ruins of the national palace on Thursday afternoon, killing at least one man and injuring several more, witnesses said. Third-place candidate and carnival singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly blamed the attack on supporters of government-backed candidate Jude Celestin, who is edging him out by less than 1 percentage point for a spot in next month’s run-off.

The provisional electoral council announced a seeming compromise on Thursday afternoon with a re-count of tally sheets at which international observers and the three leading candidates — Celestin, Martelly and first-place vote-getter and former first lady Mirlande Manigat — could attend.

But the situation appeared to continue worsening. The US reissued a travel warning recommending all US citizens reconsider nonessential trips to Haiti. Canada closed its embassy until further notice because of the post-electoral violence. Flights were canceled in and out of the capital’s international airport.

The Nov. 28 election was hobbled by disorganization, voter intimidation and allegations of fraud by every active candidate in the race. Less than a quarter of eligible voters are said to have cast valid ballots.

Martelly was long popular as a carnival leader and singer of kompa, a jazzy Haitian dance -music he blended with R&B and satirical lyrics. His political popularity took off in the weeks before the vote and seems to have surged since it appeared he had been narrowly disqualified from the race.

Pro-Martelly riots began on Tuesday night immediately following the announcement of results that ostensibly eliminated him from the second-round run-off. The demonstrations were rowdy, but violence was mostly directed at property and symbols of opposing candidates.

Port-au-Prince and other cities including Les Cayes and Cap-Haitien have been paralyzed by barricades, which are sharply criticized by aid workers impeded from treating an ongoing cholera epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people.

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