Shots fired in Haiti protests

2011-01-14 20:01

Port-au-Prince - Protesters angered by stalled elections erected barricades and burned tyres in the Haitian capital on Friday, as witnesses reported hearing gunfire and police made a dozen arrests.

The protests flared a day after President Rene Preval was handed an official report believed to recommend that his preferred successor should drop out of the race to replace him.

In the north of the capital, Port-au-Prince, burned tyres scorched the ground in several places, although residents said they had been set alight during the night.

By early morning a tense calm hung over the capital, still ravaged by last year's earthquake, and a local police officer told AFP: "We controlled the situation."

Local radio and residents said however that there were rumours of a demonstration at 10:00 (15:00 GMT).

National police spokesperson Gary Desrosiers told Haitian radio stations that police had made a dozen arrests, without identifying who was behind the latest round of unrest.

The trouble flared the morning after international monitors formally handed over a report believed to call for Preval's preferred candidate Jude Celestin in the polls to withdraw, following allegations of vote-rigging.

Monitors with the Organisation of American States (OAS) handed over the report on Thursday but the details are still not public.

If Celestin drops out, his closest rival, Michel Martelly, would face-off against front-runner former first lady Mirlande Manigat, in a second round runoff.

Supporters of each candidate have clashed on the streets in recent weeks since the first round of elections on November 28. Violent protests erupted in the capital in the wake of the initial poll results released in early December.

Observers are divided over whether Celestin and Preval would agree to step aside as called for by the OAS, or whether Celestin might call on supporters to demonstrate.

The unrest comes as Haitians this week marked the first anniversary of the January 12 2010 quake that killed almost a quarter million people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in squalid, unsanitary camps.

A cholera epidemic has also added to the country's woes, with officials on Thursday reporting a slight downturn in daily fatalities as total infections reached 181 000 and a toll of 3 759 dead.

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