Haiti erupts in riots as supporters of Michel Martelly protest

Outbreak of gunfire in Port-au-Prince follows disputed election results that push presidential candidate Martelly into third place

Gunfire in the centre of Port-au-Prince has left at least one person dead as violent disputes over the conduct of the presidential election continue to grip Haiti.

Election officials attempted to calm the unrest, now in its fourth day, by promising a recount of the vote to settle which two of the three leading candidates go into a final round.

Supporters of Michel Martelly, a popular carnival artist, say he is being deprived of a place in the runoff through vote-rigging to favour Jude Celestin, the ruling Unity party's chosen candidate.

Several people suffered bullet wounds in the Champ de Mars, a park beside the national palace that has become a shantytown in the wake of January's devastating earthquake. Supporters of Martelly were detained (above) as police quelled the riots.

Further trouble flared with the erection of barricades in outlying towns including Les Cayes and Cap-Haitien.

The presidential election has been widely criticised by UN, US and EU monitors for being poorly organised and riddled with fraud and intimidation of voters.

The US embassy in Port-au-Prince said the first results conflicted with monitors' reports. They put Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady of Haiti, in front with 31% while Celestin took 22%, just 1% ahead of Martelly.

Because no candidate took more than half the votes, a second round with two candidates is planned for 16 January.

Celestin is a little known official who heads the Haitian state building company. He carries the mantle of his Unity party, having been passed it by René Préval, the current president who cannot stand again because of term limits. Préval is blamed by many Haitians for having responded inadequately to the disaster.

US citizens are being advised not to travel to Haiti if they can avoid doing so. Despite the warning, and the ongoing disturbances, the Republican former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is expected to visit the country this weekend in the company of Franklin Graham, son of the TV pastor Billy Graham. Graham runs one of the many relief groups operating in Haiti since the earthquake, Samaritan's Purse.

While containing the violence remains the Haitian authorities' priority, the cholera epidemic that has so far claimed 2,000 lives continues to sap energies and resources. New evidence emerged today that appeared to support suggestions the disease was introduced by UN peacekeeping forces from Asia.

Genetic tests carried out by a team of scientists in the US confirmed that the strain of cholera that has hit Haiti came from south Asia. It was a particularly dangerous mutation that resembled a strain found in Bangladesh.

The findings would appear to strengthen claims that UN soldiers from Nepal imported the disease and inadvertently spread it after their base suffered sanitation problems.


Ed Pilkington

The GuardianTramp

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