By Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press
Fallout from fraud: Fires and protests
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Protesters enraged by the results of Haiti’s troubled presidential election set barricades and political offices ablaze, traded blows with United Nations peacekeepers and shut down the country’s lone international airport Wednesday, creating the social upheaval many have feared since the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The fallout from the Nov. 28 election, riddled by fraud, is violently shutting down cities across the impoverished country with gunfire and barricades.
Haiti’s Radio Metropole reported that at least one demonstrator was killed in Les Cayes, about 120 miles west of Port-au-Prince.
The protesters back a popular singer who narrowly lost a spot in a runoff election to Jude Celestin, a political unknown viewed by supporters and detractors alike as a continuation of unpopular President Rene Preval’s administration.
The U.S. Embassy criticized the preliminary results Tuesday, saying Haitian, U.S. and other international monitors had predicted that Celestin was likely to be eliminated in the first round.
On Wednesday, demonstrators carried pink signs with the smiling face of their candidate, Michel (Sweet Micky) Martelly. They decorated barricades with empty ballot boxes, used government campaign posters to start fires and challenged heavily armored foreign soldiers to confrontations.
Outside the provisional electoral council headquarters, young men threw rocks at UN troops. The soldiers responded with exploding canisters of tear gas that washed over a nearby quake refugee camp, sending mothers and children running.
Protesters set fire to the headquarters of Preval and Celestin’s Unity party. Multiple fire trucks responded to the scene, but in late afternoon piles of charred campaign posters continued to smolder.
Some protesters said they would continue to mobilize but do so nonviolently, as Martelly urged in a radio address Wednesday afternoon. He also told supporters to watch out for “infiltrators” who might try to incite violence.
“Demonstrating without violence is the right of the people,” he said. “I will be with you until the bald-head victory.”
Preval had earlier urged the candidates to call off the protests. “This is not how the country is supposed to work,” he said in a live radio speech. “People are suffering because of all this damage.”
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