Haiti's opposition vows more protests after election canceled

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 23, 2016 2:50 PM

By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti braced for more demonstrations against outgoing President Michel Martelly on Saturday even after authorities buckled to pressure and canceled a presidential election the opposition said was riddled with fraud.

The Caribbean nation was due to hold a runoff vote on Sunday, but the two-man race was postponed indefinitely after opposition candidate Jude Celestin refused to participate and anti-government protests and violence spread nationally.

Martelly says the allegations of fraud are unfounded but many protesters believe he unfairly favored his chosen successor, banana exporter Jovenel Moise, and are demanding the president step down immediately.

Rioters burned tires and a vehicle in Port-au-Prince on Friday. Shots were fired by the police and bystanders and several people were injured in clashes. Across the country this week election offices have been burned.

The streets were calmer on Saturday morning, with broken windows the only evidence of the violence.

"The elections had to be canceled, and so things can change," said a relieved Port-au-Prince resident Lafore Jeanti, speaking at a market on Saturday morning.

But by early afternoon, about 1,000 protesters had gathered again in downtown Port-au-Prince with protest leaders calling for Martelly to leave government immediately.

"We cannot wait until Feb. 7, Martelly must leave," said Assad Volcy, a protest leader.

Opposition leaders said the protests would continue, in a move that will keep up the pressure on Martelly as different factions try to influence the contours of any transitional administration charged with organizing the delayed election.

Hamstrung with weak institutions, impoverished Haiti has struggled to build a stable democracy since the overthrow of the 1957-1986 dictatorship of the Duvalier family and ensuing military coups and election fraud.

OPPOSITION FACTIONS

Martelly is due to leave office in two weeks and Haiti may need an interim body to organize the next election, but the government and different opposition leaders will struggle to agree on who leads such an administration.

Celestin wants to quickly organize a clean runoff vote, a senior adviser said on Saturday.

"We are very encouraged by the decision to postpone the election. We hope that everything will be put in place to have credible elections as soon as possible," said campaign manager Gerald Germain.

Others in the opposition, including leaders with links to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's left-wing Lavalas movement, want the first round of the election to also be annulled, giving themselves another shot at the presidency.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon condemned the violence and was concerned by the delay to the election.

"The secretary-general urges all political actors to reject all forms of violence and intimidation," his office said in a statement.

Those comments were echoed by the U.S. government, which has supported the fraught election to the tune of $30 million.

"The United States supports all efforts aimed at finding consensual and constructive solutions that will conclude the electoral process with an outcome that reflects the will of the people," a State Department spokeswoman said.

(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in Haiti and Louis Charbonneau in the United Nations.; Editing by Marguerita Choy)