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World News

Haiti slum clash stokes unrest fears, one killed

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Gunmen clashed with police in a running street battle in a slum district of Haiti’s capital on Friday, fueling fears of a resurgence of the election-related violence that hit the poor Caribbean nation last month.

At least one person was killed and several were arrested after protesters used burning tires to erect barricades across streets in Martissant, on the city’s south side, Port-au-Prince Police Commissioner Michaelange Gedeon told Reuters.

“They had set up barricades and fired off rounds of gunshots when we arrived. They started shooting at us. One of them was killed in a shootout with the police,” Gedeon said.

He said it was not immediately clear what triggered the protest. But it came amid widespread concerns that an experts’ report from the Organization of American States (OAS), which challenges the official results of Haiti’s November 28 national elections, could spur fresh outbreaks of unrest.

Burning barricades went up in at least two other areas of Port-au-Prince after the incident in Martissant, and there were reports linking the protests to armed supporters of Jude Celestin, Haitian President Rene Preval’s handpicked successor.

The OAS report recommends that Celestin be eliminated from a second-round run-off election because of numerous problems with preliminary results from the poll.

“The protesters, partisans of Celestin, said they were demonstrating against the OAS,” said Michel Sylvain, who watched as young men, some of them brandishing handguns, used gasoline to torch tires early on Friday along a road linking Port-au-Prince to the international airport.

He said he watched as one of them spray-painted the words “Jude Celestin ou Lamo,” Haitian Creole for “Jude Celestin or Death” on a wall along the airport road.

The incidents added to tensions and uncertainty two days after Haiti marked the first anniversary of the devastating January 12, 2010, earthquake in the volatile Caribbean country.

The Haitian national flag stands at half mast at the National Palace during the one-year anniversary of the 2010 quake in downtown Port-au-Prince, January 12, 2011. REUTERS/Allison Shelley

NEXT ELECTION STEP UNCLEAR

Preval, accused by opponents of rigging the U.N.-backed November elections that took place amid widespread confusion and fraud allegations, had originally asked the OAS to help verify the disputed preliminary election results.

But a senior government official said the outgoing president had voiced “a number of reservations” about the OAS report after it was officially presented to him by an OAS representative on Thursday.

It was not clear whether Preval would reject the report’s recommendation or seek to discuss his reservations further with the OAS experts. It was also unclear if he would submit the OAS recommendation to the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), the final arbiter of the elections.

The preliminary election results, which were hotly contested by opposition candidates and triggered riots when they were announced by the CEP last month, had put government technocrat and Preval protege Celestin in the second round.

The OAS experts’ report cited “significant” vote tally irregularities to recommended that Celestin be replaced in the second round run-off by popular musician Michel Martelly, who had been narrowly placed third in the preliminary results.

The OAS experts’ report confirmed opposition matriarch Mirlande Manigat as the candidate who won most votes in the first round, although she did not gain enough to win outright. She therefore remains in the second-round run-off.

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, at the earliest.

Leading critics of what has been widely seen as a fraud-marred election continue to call for a complete elections rerun, annulling the still preliminary results from November 28. A group of presidential candidates also have made this call.

Last month’s protests and violence triggered by the December 7 results killed at least four people and increased fears that instability could delay the hand-over of billions of dollars of reconstruction funds for Haiti from foreign donors.

Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Vicki Allen

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