Image: Haitians protest election results
Guillermo Arias  /  AP
Supporters of presidential candidate Michel Martelly demonstrate in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Wednesday.
updated 12/9/2010 8:14:25 PM ET 2010-12-10T01:14:25

Protesters enraged by the results of Haiti's troubled presidential election set barricades and political offices ablaze, traded blows with U.N. peacekeepers and shut down the country's lone international airport Wednesday, creating the social upheaval many have feared since the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The fallout from the Nov. 28 election, riddled by fraud, is violently shutting down cities across the impoverished country with gunfire and barricades at a moment when medical aid workers need to tackle a surging cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 2,000 lives.

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Haiti's Radio Metropole reported that at least one demonstrator was killed in Les Cayes, about 120 miles (193 kilometers) west of Port-au-Prince in the country's southern peninsula.

The protesters back a popular carnival singer who narrowly lost a spot in a runoff election to Jude Celestin, a political unknown viewed by supporters and detractors alike as a continuation of unpopular President Rene Preval's administration. The U.S. Embassy criticized the preliminary results Tuesday, saying Haitian, U.S. and other international monitors had predicted that Celestin was likely to be eliminated in the first round.

Slideshow: Violence in Haiti (on this page)

On Wednesday, demonstrators carried pink signs with the smiling face and bald head of their candidate, Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly. They decorated barricades with empty ballot boxes, used government campaign posters to start fires and challenged heavily armored foreign soldiers to near-theatrical confrontations.

Outside the provisional electoral council headquarters, a former gym in the suburb of Petionville, young men wearing their shirts as masks threw rocks at U.N. troops. The soldiers — Indians and Pakistanis working as a single unit — responded with exploding canisters of tear gas that washed over a nearby earthquake-refugee camp, sending mothers running from their tarps with their crying, coughing children in tow.

'Tomorrow we bring weapons'
Protesters set fire to the headquarters of Preval and Celestin's Unity party. Multiple fire trucks responded to the scene as flames licked the roof — an unusual scene in a country with few public services — but in late afternoon piles of charred campaign posters continued to smolder.

"We want Martelly. The whole world wants Martelly," said James Becimus, a 32-year-old protester near the U.S. Embassy. "Today we set fires, tomorrow we bring weapons."

Other protesters said they would continue to mobilize but do so nonviolently, as Martelly urged in a radio address Wednesday afternoon. He also told supporters to watch out for "infiltrators" who might try to incite violence.

"Demonstrating without violence is the right of the people," he said. "I will be with you until the bald-head victory."

Preval had earlier urged the candidates to call off the protests.

"This is not how the country is supposed to work," he said in a live radio speech. "People are suffering because of all this damage."

Disenfranchised by confusion
Preval's administration has been condemned by many Haitians for failing to spearhead reconstruction of the country after the earthquake. More than an estimated 1 million people still live under tarps and tents and little of the promised international aid from the United States and other countries has arrived.

Preliminary election results put Celestin ahead of Martelly by just 6,845 votes for second place, while former first lady and law professor Mirlande Manigat took first place. The top two candidates advance to the Jan. 16 second round.

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Thousands were disenfranchised by confusion on the rolls, which were overstuffed with earthquake dead but lacked many living voters. There were reported incidents of ballot-stuffing, violence and intimidation confirmed by international observers, but U.N. peacekeepers and the joint Organization of American States-Caribbean Community observer mission said the problems did not invalidate the vote.

Turnout was low. Just over 1 million people cast accepted ballots out of some 4.7 million registered voters. It is not known how many ballots were thrown out for fraud.

In a televised address, Preval took a swipe at Washington's criticism of the election results, saying that while he was open to discussing electoral problems with anyone, "the American Embassy is not (the electoral council)."

Video: Fury over election creates flashpoint in Haiti (on this page)

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. is not fomenting the unrest.

"The United States is in no way responsible for the actions of any individual. What we are determined to help Haiti achieve is a credible election and a result — not one that the United States will impose — but one that the people of Haiti can participate in fully," he told reporters in Washington.

Meanwhile, Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said she planned to travel to Haiti with the Rev. Franklin Graham as part of the outreach of his Samaritan's Purse relief organization.

A spokeswoman for the group confirmed Palin planned to visit relief sites this weekend.

Martelly had joined with 11 other candidates, including Manigat, to accuse Preval of trying to steal the election while polls were still open.

An appeals period is open for the next three days, and election observers said a third candidate might be included in the runoff if the electoral council decides the first-round vote was close enough — though the constitutionality of such a move would be debatable.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern "about allegations of fraud" and "the acts of violence that have taken place in the aftermath of the announcement," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

He said all candidates have a responsibility to encourage their supporters to refrain from violence.

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.

American Airlines canceled all 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. Flights will also be canceled on Thursday.

The U.S. Embassy reported that the smaller regional airport at Cap-Haitien was also closed due to demonstrations and barricaded roads.

___

Associated Press writers Jacob Kushner in Port-au-Prince, Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Bob Burns in Washington and Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Fury over election creates flashpoint in Haiti

  1. Transcript of: Fury over election creates flashpoint in Haiti

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: happen to know how many of you were so generous to Haiti following our coverage of the earthquake there. Haiti , as you know, has remained a very sad place. Recovery has been so slow and now cholera has been spreading so fast, and now violence has erupted there. We mentioned earlier, American Airlines has stopped all flights in and out. Both airports are closed. A lot of roads are barricaded, and moving around is not safe. Our own Ann Curry is in Haiti and has our report tonight. Ann :

    ANN CURRY reporting: Brian , thousands took to the streets here, accusing Haiti 's ruling party of election fraud. And UN forces engaged, at one point using flash grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets. Fury poured into the streets of Haiti 's capital Port -au-Prince just minutes after results of the presidential election 10 days ago were announced. Protestors burned tires, set up roadblocks and torched vehicles. Most of the rage comes from supporters of presidential hopeful Michel Martelly . They say their man was cheated and received more than the 21 percent of the vote announced by the electoral council. They also accuse the ruling party of Haiti 's current president Rene Preval of rigging the vote in favor of their candidate, who polls show was not expected to come close to winning. And many believe the ruling party stole the votes of people killed in Haiti 's catastrophic January earthquake but were still registered to vote. Some 230,000 people died that day. The party's headquarters was burned. NBC 's Frank Thorp in Port -au-Prince witnessed scenes of chaos.

    Mr. FRANK THORP (Producer): So Americans, expatriates, foreigners are locking themselves into their houses because right now it's not a safe situation. All the stores are closed, boarded up because of the violence. Those stores that were not boarded up, their windows have been smashed. Buildings have been vandalized and the streets are completely impassable. Cars can't drive. The roads are completely blocked off.

    CURRY: Adding to the election anger is a cholera epidemic, which appears to be worsening. According to Haitian health officials, about 2100 people have now died from cholera since the outbreak of the disease in October. And a new estimate by the World Health Organization projects about 650,000 Haitians will contract the disease within the next six months. And tonight the US Embassy warned the situation remains dangerous and advised US citizens to stay indoors

    until conditions stabilize. Brian: Ann Curry in Haiti for us tonight. Ann , thanks for

    WILLIAMS:

Photos: Violence in Haiti

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  1. U.N. peacekeepers fire rubber bullets at protesters as they ride through a barricade in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Friday, Dec. 10. There have been days of rioting over disputed presidential election results. The handpicked protege of President Rene Preval, Jude Celestin, narrowly won a place in a runoff against former Haitian first lady Mirlande Manigat. Michel Martelly finished third, according to election authorities, and that result set off protests. (Guillermo Arias / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A relative of man who was shot in the head during clashes between presidential candidates' supporters reacts in downtown Port-au-Prince, Dec. 9. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Supporters of presidential candidate Michel Martelly take part in a protest in Petion Ville, Dec. 9. Haiti's electoral authorities said on Thursday they would urgently recheck vote tally sheets to try to defuse anger over the results. (Str / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A police officer stands in front of detained supporters of presidential candidate Michel Martelly during riots in Port-au-Prince, Dec. 9. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A woman overwhelmed by tear gas released by U.N. troops is carried to a Red Cross clinic in Port-au-Prince, Dec. 8. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A Haitian sets up a barricade of burning tires while holding a banner of presidential candidate Michel Martelly in front of the national palace in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 8. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A policeman stands guard while demonstrators march in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 8. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Supporters of presidential candidate Michel Martelly demonstrate in Port-au-Prince. (Guillermo Arias / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Looters rummage through the campaign headquarters of presidential candidate Jude Celestin of the ruling party in Port-au- Prince. (Hector Retamal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Police at the burning campaign headquarters of presidential candidate Jude Celestin in Port-au- Prince. (Hector Retamal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A Haitian holds a poster of presidential candidate Michel Martelly during a protest in Port-au-Prince. (Kena Betancur / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A burned-out vehicle blocks a street Port-au-Prince. (Hector Retamal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Haitian police run past burning tires during riots in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, Dec. 7, following the release of preliminary election results. Protests and sporadic gunfire erupted in Haiti's capital after electoral authorities announced the country's inconclusive presidential election would go to a run-off vote. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (13) Violence in Haiti
  2. Image:
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    Slideshow (32) Cholera outbreak in Haiti

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