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OAS experts challenge Haiti election result: report
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - A leaked report on Haiti's disputed November 28 elections by Organization of American States experts recommends that a government-backed presidential candidate be eliminated from a second-round run-off, a U.S. media report said Monday.
The Associated Press, which said it had obtained a copy of the OAS team's draft report, cited the document as challenging the preliminary election results released on December 7 by Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), which had put government technocrat Jude Celestin in the second round.
The Provisional Electoral Council said it had not yet received the final report by the OAS experts who have worked since late last month to verify the contested results from the chaotic presidential and legislative polls on Nov 28.
The leaked report's recommendation seemed likely to roil the edgy political climate in Haiti just days before the country and the international community commemorate the first anniversary of the January 12 quake.
The preliminary December 7 results triggered several days of street riots and protests, mostly by supporters of third-place candidate and popular musician Michel Martelly who was edged out of the second round by Celestin. Both finished behind opposition matriarch Mirlande Manigat who gained most votes in the first round, but not enough for an outright win.
"The Provisional Electoral Council does not have the OAS report," CEP Director-General Pierre-Louis Opont told Reuters.
OAS officials in Haiti said they were still working on the final version of the report on the election results to be delivered to the CEP and Haitian President Rene Preval.
"We don't have a final report as yet, we're working on it ... We hope to have it finished by the end of the day," said Ambassador Colin Granderson, who heads a joint OAS-Caribbean Community mission that observed the November 28 elections.
OAS and CEP officials said they could not comment on the contents of the leaked OAS report as cited by the Associated Press. One official called the leak "disappointing."
Outgoing president Preval, under fire from critics over his government's response to the earthquake and to a subsequent deadly cholera epidemic, is understood to be anxious to avoid mixing the electoral dispute with the January 12 earthquake memorial events, foreign diplomats said.
Preval, whose mandate ends on February 7 but has a parliament-approved authorization to stay in office until May 14 if this is made necessary by handover delays, has described the election results impasse as "a dangerous crossroads."
The protests and violence which followed the December 7 preliminary results have stoked fears that instability could delay the handover of billions of dollars of urgently needed reconstruction funds for Haiti from foreign donors.
The leaked report cited by the Associated Press said the OAS experts found correct election procedures had not been followed and that there were signs that vote tally sheets had been altered.
According to the review quoted by the Associated Press, Martelly, a star of Haiti's Kompa music, would end up in second place in the first round with 22.2 percent, while Preval protege Celestin would drop to third place, and out of the second round, with 21.9 percent.
Manigat would remain in first place and in the second round with 31.6 percent of the vote.
This compared with the preliminary results announced on December 7 by the CEP which gave Manigat 31.37 percent, Celestin 22.48 percent, and Martelly 21.84 percent.
Election observers say that even if the CEP heeds the OAS experts' findings, it still has to complete a disputes procedure before it can formally announce final revised results from the November 28 first round vote.
This means Haiti will not be able to hold a presidential election second round run-off before February.
(Additional reporting and writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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