Gunfire Erupts As Haiti Issues Early Election Results

Haiti's presidential election last month has sparked protests, violence and charges of fraud. Steve Inskeep talks with NPR's Jason Beaubien in Port-au-Prince for the latest on the just-released preliminary election results.

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(Soundbite of gunfire)

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

That's the sound of gunfire on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which is where we're going next. Protests erupted last night when supporters of one presidential candidate denounced the results of an election last month. The results were announced last night. The U.S. embassy has taken the unusual step of criticizing those election results.

And today, NPR's Jason Beaubien went out to have a look and see what is happening with the protests now.

Jason, what have you seen?

JASON BEAUBIEN: Well, thousands of people have taken to the streets of Port-au-Prince this morning. Some of the fires that burned all night in the streets have been sort of rekindled. There are dumpsters that have been overturned in the streets. Even the port-a-potties are - strewn them out in the streets.

People right now are chanting. These are supporters of Michel Martelly, the candidate who has been eliminated, according to the official election results from this race. People say that Michel Martelly was robbed of this, and Martelly himself, during the actual campaign, on election day, gathered another 11 candidates and came out claiming that electoral fraud was happening on election day. Now, his supporters say that's what's actually happened. He lost be just a few thousand votes and didn't make it into the runoff, which will be held on January 16th.

INSKEEP: We're listening from a noisy street to NPR's Jason Beaubien, who's watching protesters today, people supporting one of the losing candidates protesting the results of a presidential election.

Jason, do the protesters appear to have any objective? Are they going after any particular government facility, for example?

BEAUBIEN: They aren't really going after any particular government facility, but they say that if in the next few hours this result isn't overturned, that they are just going to take to the streets. And some people are saying that there's going to be even more violence, that they're going to trash things. Already, the streets are strewn with trash. There are barricades. Cars are not moving around. The police are clearly not in control. You occasionally do see police, but they are not attempting to push back these people or these protestors or sort of contain them in any way.

INSKEEP: And what does it mean that the United States has very quickly weighed in on this? The U.S. embassy has already said that they are questioning the results of this election in which some candidates were eliminated.

BEAUBIEN: This just throws a whole other ball into this - into the field. The U.S. embassy usually is very cautious about making any statements. They came out within an hour and a half after these election results were released and said that they are concerned that these government officials - that the election officials released results that they say are inconsistent with what all of the international observers and national observers saw on election day. A very unusual move by the U.S. embassy to come out so strongly and express their concerns over an election that clearly is contested and that is causing, at this moment, huge protests in the streets of Port-au-Prince.

INSKEEP: Now, let's make sure we understand the dynamics of what is allegedly happening here. Renee Preval, the current president, is alleged to have pushed his favorite candidate into a runoff, allegedly using fraud. And that's the allegation that is now being contested on the streets.

Jason, I'd like to know, other than the protest, is there some due process that can apply here? Is there a method for a recount or a court proceeding that could resolve this dispute?

BEAUBIEN: So these are the official preliminary results. And by preliminary, that means that the candidates have 72 hours to contest these results. So we certainly expect that Michel Martelly is going to do that sometime today. He actually called a press conference late last night and then had to hastily cancel it for security reasons, as people just took to the streets and it was impossible to move through the streets of Port-au-Prince last night. So we do expect that to move forward. But at the moment, Port-au-Prince is completely shut down by these protests for Michel Martelly.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Jason, thanks very much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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