January 21, 2011 / 9:19 PM / 9 years ago

Haiti candidate warns of protests, U.S. pulls visas

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitian presidential candidate Michel Martelly, whom the United Nations and the United States want put back into the country’s election runoff, said on Friday he would bring protesters out onto the streets if local election authorities do not comply.

A billboard of Haiti's presidential candidate Michel Martelly is seen at a local store in Port-au-Prince January 20, 2011. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

In a move apparently linked to heavy U.S. pressure for Haiti’s electoral authorities to amend the preliminary results of chaotic November 28 elections, Washington revoked the U.S. visas of some Haitians associated with the campaign of a government candidate who is Martelly’s rival for a runoff place.

The U.N. and western donors are piling pressure on Haiti’s government and Provisional Electoral Council to include Martelly, a popular musician, in the deciding second-round contest with opposition matriarch Mirlande Manigat.

This would be in line with an Organization of American States experts’ report, delivered to Haitian authorities, that cites “irregularities” in the initial election results. It recommends dropping the government-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, from the runoff, in favor of Martelly.

U.N., U.S. and European officials are emphatically telling Haitian President Rene Preval, who has faced accusations of rigging the first round vote results, that failure to follow the OAS recommendation risks plunging the earthquake-battered Caribbean nation into even more turmoil.

Martelly, whose supporters staged violent protests when the December 7 preliminary results placed him third and excluded him from a deciding second-round vote, said he would “not negotiate” his being one of the final two runoff contenders.

“We are saying that the electoral council has to apply the (OAS) experts’ recommendations ... We are prepared to fight to the end,” he told a news conference in Port-au-Prince.

“If the recommendations are not respected, the population is ready to take to the streets and we will accompany them to defend their vote.”

The uncertainty created by the elections impasse in Haiti, which is trying to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake, has been intensified by the surprise return home from exile of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

Duvalier, 59, faces charges of corruption and human rights abuses committed during his 1971-1986 rule. Another exiled former president, firebrand ex-priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has said he also wants to come home.

Haitian radio stations reported nine Haitians with links to Preval and Celestin’s ruling Inite coalition and to Celestin’s presidential campaign had their U.S. entry visas revoked.

The list of nine included Preval’s Minister of Social Affairs Gerald Germain, Celestin’s campaign manager Jean Francois Chamblain and another Inite campaign figure, Assad Volcy, head of communications at the presidential palace.

STATE DEPARTMENT CONFIRMATION

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that some visas had been revoked and that Haitian officials were among those affected.

“We want to see the government of Haiti embrace the recommendations of the OAS verification mission report. We want to see security and stability sustained in Haiti. We want to see the election results reflect the will of the Haitian people,” Crowley said in Washington.

“To the extent that there are individuals who are connected with episodes of violence or corruption, we will not hesitate to take appropriate action,” he added.

In Port-au-Prince, Martelly accused outgoing President Preval, who cannot stand again for a second consecutive term, of being “ready to do anything, including killing people” to keep his protege Celestin in the second-round runoff.

Martelly called Duvalier’s return a “distraction,” saying Preval must have known in advance about the former dictator’s intention to return to his homeland. Preval’s government has said it had only about an hour’s warning Duvalier was coming.

Martelly said he would wait to see the definitive election results from the Provisional Electoral Council, which is expected to give final results at the end of this month.

U.N. officials say they expect a second round runoff in mid-February.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Preval, whose popularity slumped when many Haitians criticized his low-key response to the earthquake disaster, has expressed reservations about the OAS experts’ report.

The report puts Martelly ahead of Celestin with as slim a margin — mere fractions of percentage points - as the original preliminary results from Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council puts Celestin in front and in the second round.

Former first lady Manigat is undisputed as winner of the most votes in the first round, though not enough to win outright.

Additional reporting by Allyn Gaestel in Port-au-Prince, Andy Quinn in Washington, Writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Chris Wilson

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