Nervous Haitians await vote results

Banks and stores closed early and people rushed to get home in the capital on Wednesday as Haitians feared unrest with the expected announcement of final results from the disputed presidential election.

The provisional electoral commission was scheduled to announce which two of the three front-running candidates from the November ballot would get spots in a March runoff.

Preliminary results showing government-backed candidate Jude Celestin edging out popular singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly set off often violent protests in December. Those figures were released late in the evening in a failed effort to head off unrest.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to Port-au-Prince on Sunday to meet all three candidates and reaffirm in person to President Rene Preval that Washington backed an Organisation of American States report recommending that Celestin be dropped from the race.

But on Tuesday rumours spread through the capital that the report would be rejected, either by putting Celestin in the next round or cancelling the election altogether.

Annulling the election outright could also ruin the advantage of first-place candidate Mirlande Manigat, a conservative former first lady whose supporters have protested violently in her favour, mainly in the countryside.

"Haiti awaits the final presidential results with trepidation," Radio Kiskeya said on its website. Radio Metropole said, "Nobody knows what will happen during these next few hours, which may be crucial for the future of the country."

The US Embassy issued an alert for US citizens warning of the "potential for elections-related violence throughout Haiti for the duration of the elections period."

The November 28 first round included widespread disorganisation, violence, intimidation, fraud and a call on election day from nearly every candidate - including Martelly and Manigat - to cancel the vote while it was going on.

An OAS team recommended that recalculating the results based on estimates of fraud would create a Manigat-Martelly faceoff in the runoff.

This week the Congressional Black Caucus issued a statement breaking with the State Department and calling on "the United States and the international community to uphold the ideals of fairness and support a new Haiti election process that is free and fair."

Preval's five-year term is scheduled to end on Monday under the constitution. An emergency law passed by members of his former party in an expiring Senate would allow him to remain in office for up to three more months, in part because his 2006 inauguration was delayed.

If Preval steps down as scheduled, the Haitian constitution says the highest-ranking member of Haiti's supreme court would take over the country pending an election to be held no less than 45 days and no more than 90 days later. The court's presidency is currently vacant.


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