News from Haiti

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Preval won, some rival Haiti candidates say

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) Tue Feb 14, 2006 11:18 AM ET - A growing chorus of rival candidates said on Tuesday Haitian voters had chosen ex-President Rene Preval in elections still undecided a week after the vote, while the government urged calm to allow the count to be completed.

The Haitian capital was more peaceful early Tuesday after pro-Preval demonstrators had paralyzed the city with flaming barricades and street marches on Monday demanding that he be allowed to take the presidency. Some roads were still blocked by rocks, tree branches and other debris but traffic was moving.

Haiti's interim government pleaded with Haitians to stay calm as elections officials counted the last 10 percent of ballots. The government was appointed after Aristide fled the impoverished Caribbean nation in the face of an armed rebellion and under intense international pressure to quit,

Preval, a one-time ally of deposed leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide had 48.7 percent at last report. He won the first round easily but his supporters and some elections officials said the count was being manipulated to prevent him from taking the office without a run-off. He needed 50 percent plus one vote for an outright win.

"The people elected Preval. I respect their will," Dany Toussaint, a presidential candidate who won about 7,000 of more than 2 million votes cast, said on local radio. "I recognize they did not vote for me."

Other presidential candidates also conceded Preval had won, including Chavannes Jeune, who is running fourth, former Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul, who won just over 2 percent of the vote, and ex-Prime Minister Marc Bazin, who took under 1 percent.

"A runoff ... would not solve anything," Paul said. "Let us look for balance in parliament and forget about the second round. That will be proof of political intelligence."

Preval had just under the needed 50 percent with 90 percent of the vote counted. Another ex-president, Leslie Manigat, had 11.8 and industrialist Charles Baker, seen as the candidate of the wealthy elite, had 7.9 percent.


Tens of thousands of Preval supporters marched in the streets on Monday, burning tires and blocking roads to demand Preval be named president immediately.

The demonstrations were largely peaceful, but witnesses said Jordanian U.N. troops -- part of a peacekeeping force providing security in Haiti -- killed two people when they opened fire at protesters in Tabarre, just north of the capital.

The United Nations denied the accusation, saying the soldiers had fired warning shots in the air.

In a nationally televised address late on Monday, interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue asked for patience and assured voters they would get an honest vote count.

"No vote will be stolen," Latortue said. "We ask everyone to go back home, to stay calm and the results will be published."

Security was strengthened at the luxury Montana hotel in the hills overlooking Port-au-Prince, where elections officials had been releasing partial vote counts and holding news conferences.

Preval supporters had burst through the hotel's steel gates and invaded the upscale resort on Monday, demanding a final vote count and chanting "Preval is president!" On Tuesday, a white U.N. armored personnel carrier was stationed at the bottom of the winding road leading to the hotel and military police guarded the entry.

Haiti's short democratic history has been plagued by violence. Aristide, a former priest who is a champion of Haiti's poor, was sent into exile in each of his two terms in office.