PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The headquarters of Haiti’s ruling party was set ablaze today as riots grew over disputed presidential election results. Protests have also broken out in Les Cayes, Cap-Haitien and other cities.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital, erecting barricades and setting fires, furious that government-backed candidate Jude Celestin, the protege of unpopular President Rene Preval, apparently will go on to a runoff vote while carnival singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly finished third in official results and is probably eliminated.
Associated Press journalists saw flames leaping from the roof of the Unity party headquarters, the centre of Celestin’s campaign. Witnesses said the building in central Port-au-Prince was on fire for an hour.
Protesters say security guards shot demonstrators as they assaulted the building, but there were no confirmed injures in the fire or demonstration. Several fire trucks were trying to control the blaze — an unusual scene in a city with few reliable public services.
The official preliminary results have law professor and former first lady Mirlande Manigat in first with 31.4 per cent of the vote and Celestin next with 22.5. Martelly has 21.8 per cent — trailing Celestin by about 6,800 votes.
The results, announced after hours of delays last evening, were immediately questioned at home and abroad. The United States Embassy said the results did not match reports by official election observers who said Celestin would likely be eliminated in the first round.
An appeals period is open for the next three days, and election observers said a third candidate might be included in a January 16 runoff if the electoral council decides the first-round vote was close enough — though the constitutionality of such a move would be debatable.
But protesters did not wait. Groups of young men armed with clubs and sticks marched through the streets to government buildings, electoral offices and foreign embassies. Several hundred converged on the imposing US Embassy complex on the eastern edge of the capital.
“We want to tell them Martelly is the president. We won’t accept anything less. Otherwise we will set this country on fire,” Frances Odis said.
Martelly supporters also set up flaming barricades in Petionville, the smoke of burning tires blackening the air. Thousands were on the streets, singing political songs and chanting for “Micky.”
Vehicles were damaged by rocks and items were reportedly stolen from stores. Foreign aid workers complained that Haitian national police were slow to respond and that many officers refused to report to duty following the election results.
American Airlines halted flights in and out of the Haitian capital because airport employees were unable to get to work Wednesday because of demonstrations, spokeswoman Martha Pantin said.